Aircraft Interiors Expo Day 1: The Future is Bright...but Complicated

A time of great opportunity – and of significant challenges. That was the over-arching message from the first Aircraft Interiors Expo and World Travel Catering & Onboard Services Expo conference, which was staged at the Hamburg Messe yesterday (Monday 26 April).

More than 250 delegates packed into the Hamburg Messe to hear leading experts from the operator community, airframers, interiors suppliers and the consultancy sector give their views on the hot issues of today. It was clear that to compete successfully operators will have to tailor their offerings ever more closely to the individual needs of their customers. To achieve this they need to develop their usage of new technology in a spectrum of areas, from e-techniques to speed up boarding to obtaining customer feedback from social media. In between this comes a raft of potential advances in areas such as in-flight entertainment and communication.

Another challenge arises from the effects of globalisation. As Sarah Klatt-Walsh, Director Inflight Products & Services at Swiss International Air Lines put it, ‘Cultures are on the move today. The new melting pot is in the cabin.’

Notwithstanding the recent global economic downturn the conference mood was decidedly upbeat, with mention of healthy order books for Airbus and Boeing and the vigorous growth of the emerging markets, particularly the Asia Pacific region.  However, airlines have to fight for customers. Jeremy White, Head of Transport at Seymourpowell, explained the crucial role of data mining in tailoring the offering to passengers’ specific needs, gathering information on their tastes in areas such as music and food. Personalisation could even be extended to identifying passengers with health concerns who could receive appropriate levels of attention from the cabin crew. Free Wi-Fi is a key enabler in gathering passenger information and White suggested that airlines could collaborate with brands to fund the connectivity.

Customers can be presented with too much choice, leading to anxiety, especially if they are in a queue in a transportation environment. Raymond Kollau, Founder and Trend Analyst at Airlinetrends.com, described how Air New Zealand had made life simpler for passengers on short-haul routes by offering four easily understandable packages, ranging from ‘seat only’ through ‘seat and bag’ to the all-inclusive ‘deluxe’. Kollau also explained that airlines had to meet the challenge of the increasing geographical diversity of the passenger mix, stating that Emirates had cabin crew from 130 different nations.

Sven Achilles, Vice President and General Manager, B/E Aerospace, stated that industry must gear up to the fact that passenger numbers are doubling every 15 years. Competition abounds, with the advance of the alliances as well as airlines with strong market bases, such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. Airlines have to distinguish themselves from their competitors. One way was to install new products in the cabin but it was just as important to look at outside areas, such as the start point when the customer starts to think about buying a ticket. Achilles said that the prospects for airlines were good. As for the interiors industry, some companies would successfully rise to the challenge while others would fall by the wayside.

Sustainability was also featured prominently. Sarah Klatt-Walsh explained that weight was fundamental to reducing the carbon footprint. In making decisions about weight airlines had to consider not only technical issues but even details such as the number of cans of a particular brand of soft drink that needed to be a carried. Rather than fly unopened cans around, was it not better to try to predict usage in a more effective way and offer an alternative to a passenger rather than carrying surplus stock?

Throwing the spotlight on the rail sector, Arnaud Masson, Head of Onboard Services at Eurostar, said that his company carried the passenger equivalent of 72 jumbo jets every day between London and Paris. Eurostar is offering two destinations, not a train, and passenger experience played a key role. The techniques employed by Eurostar included offering business class travellers a menu based on French cuisine for departures from Paris and an English focused menu for journeys starting in London. A recent notable success was a pizza that gave off a delicious aroma reminiscent of an authentic pizzeria.

John Hyde, Aircraft Interiors Expo Exhibition Director, summed up: “It is clear that meeting the challenge of the future will involve a diversity of issues both great and small. The response to our first conference has been outstanding with encouraging levels of both interaction and attendance.”

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