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Airlines see the light

Graeme Kennedy

Friday 21st November 2003

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A colourful revolution has begun in airline premier cabins as part of a global trend to more relaxing and comfortable products for long-haul first and business-class travellers.

Major carriers are moving away from the traditional three-class configuration and combining first and business into a single top-line product enhanced by new-generation flat-bed "pod" seats, which offer the ultimate in comfort and privacy and bring in more revenue by making better use of front-end space.

An important element of the new-generation product is mood lighting, which floods the cabin walls and ceiling with colour to simulate sunrise, sunset and a deep blue starry night sky for sleep.

Offered by both Airbus and Boeing, it was demonstrated aboard the Seattle manufacturer's big twin 777-300ER during its Auckland visit this week. Boeing hopes to sell the aircraft to Air New Zealand for the airline's five to 10-year fleet replacement programme and included Auckland in its series of long-range worldwide test flights. Regional product marketing director Bruce Nicoletti said mood lighting, turning night to day with a gradual sunrise inside the cabin, was a more gentle way to wake than having the main lights suddenly switched on and better prepared travellers for time-zone changes after long flights.

Nicoletti said the product would be launched in premium cabins but was expected to be extended through all classes in the future.

"New products are driven by the way airlines want to use space in the aircraft," Nicoletti said. "They need the ability to maximise the number of seats they can put in a cabin but maintain space and comfort.

"They generate more revenue from a first-class seat but the space it takes can offset the benefit and a lot of carriers are doing away with first and replacing it with a combined first and business- class in about 25% of the aircraft. "The trend even now is for carriers to put flat beds in business and eventually the business product will be upgraded as they do away with first to get more seats and revenue in the same space."

Nicoletti said flat-bed pod seats had become the industry standard, providing privacy with partitions and screens for exclusive space.

"They are very good but they could be better," he said. "There are many on the market but they are expensive and heavy ­ we need improvements in weight and they should be less complex and easier to maintain."

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