Bringing Modularity to the Skies

Nicholas El Bizri, Aug 10 2017

Commercial flying has become a routine and mediocre experience for most people. Most typical in-flight experiences include uncomfortable seats, little legroom and a boring flight with nowhere to go for hours or more.

One company, however, is set to solve this nuisance. A³, a Silicon Valley startup fully backed by Airbus, has introduced an innovative concept which they call ‘Transpose’. Transpose was revealed earlier this year and brings modularity to aircraft cabins specifically.

Cabins will be composed of pre-built modules, which differ depending on airline preferences, which transform the standard ‘window-middle-aisle’ arrangement to a set of premium suites.

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These modules can be loaded onto aircrafts with ease and the entire process completed during airplane turn time. A³ has one goal in mind, and that is to focus on improving flight experiences while continuously innovating and re-imagining cabin design and architecture. 

The Transpose Concept
A³ is concentrating its initial effort on wide-body aircraft, choosing the A330 to showcase their concept. The startup claims that for their prototype, this specific cabin size would suffice. However, to provide enough space for a satisfying experience, wider body aircraft would be needed. Approximately 10 to 14 different modules would provide the ultimate in-flight experience.

The implementation of these modular cabins will enable airlines to create unique experiences for their passengers. For example, airlines can adjust cabin design depending on a route’s seasonality or flight duration - providing passengers with a tailored experience.

This would be possible thanks to the module’s quick loading process. As an aircraft reaches its destination, each module can be unloaded quickly and the entire aircraft reconfigured in time for the next route. 

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Just imagine as passengers deplane, seats are swapped out for bunks for a 12-hour flight route to Singapore. That same plane could then be used for a shorter flight in which the airline could swap out the bunks for a spa, ready to service vacationers eager to start their travels refreshed. The number of possible different modules is endless for airliners to choose from; varying between cafes, spas, bars and even gyms.

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What makes this concept so lucrative to airliners is the opportunity it brings. These modules would give carriers an opportunity to cater to passenger needs, further differentiate their product from that of competitors and experiment with different module setups. Take a look at the numerous cabin setup possibilities below:

Modularity also diversifies airline revenue in terms of additional advertising. With unique modular spaces, airlines can create interesting ad space for advertisers to benefit from. Branded modules such as a Starbucks café or Reebok gym would not just make airlines happy, but loyal passengers as well.

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A³ ultimately gives passengers the freedom to move freely during their flight just like they would on a cruise ship. Giving passengers the ability to hop from one spot to another would be far more bearable rather than being crammed in their seats for hours on end.

Transpose is still just a concept however, and the startup has made it clear that it does not intend to manufacture any of these modules. Instead, it hopes for third-party aerospace companies to take care of the design, build, and sale - similar to the current strategy for seats, lavatories, and galleys. 

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Before jumping the gun with the concept, the A³ team wanted to test how a modular cabin would work in real life. Therefore, they simulated a four-hour flight from ‘takeoff’ to ‘landing’ using a low-fidelity, full-scale prototype passenger cabin.

This provided them with insight to better understand how passengers would interact within the aircraft. Modules included a spa, restaurant and even a game room. You can watch the Transpose test flight below: 

Test Flight in Crissy Field from Fly Transpose on Vimeo.

A³ is working fast to bring this concept to life, aiming to have a Transpose-enabled aircraft flying within the next few years. Having already started discussions with key regulators and given the full support of its parent company Airbus, meeting this timeframe may be possible.

Benefits
Transpose brings much more to the table than it seems. The flexibility of Transpose modules would allow aircraft manufacturers like Airbus to deliver interiors trims to airline customers much faster.

Currently, cabin installations can only take place around six weeks before delivery day. This is due to the fact that aircrafts would still be in the process of being assembled on the line up until this point.

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Furthermore, modular cabin architecture reduces the lengthy cabin customization delivery time and increases flexibility for cabin design options. This would allow airlines to really distinguish their brand and onboard offerings all while shortening overall lead time.

Shorter airplane turn time is another benefit of modular cabin implementation. Since the loading process is quick and easy, passenger modules can be cleaned, prepared and settled on the ground even before the arrival of the aircraft. Cabins would only require a quick replacement rather than waiting for crew to cycle through the cabin. 

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