Automotive design influence in aviation

When it comes to the transportation industry, automotive design has always been more progressive than most. Quick product turnaround and a focus on the customer, along with a different regulatory environment, means designers benefit from less restriction in innovation than in the aviation, rail and marine industries, able to consistently push boundaries. However, the lines are slowly beginning to blur.

There are several reasons behind this disparity, a huge factor being cost per product. Developing suitable materials and running repeated certification tests is costly and time-consuming, risking taking a project over budget and behind schedule. In such a competitive industry as aviation, agencies are forced to curb innovation in favour of approved materials and standard formats. The cost of life of products and small production numbers have a significant effect on innovation. Luxury cars, for example, are able to host a wide variety of fabrics and composites due to production scale and consequent cost spreading. Another factor is maintenance; a personal vehicle will only be occupied for reasonably short periods of time, and by few people. An aircraft staff must manage and maintain every surface in the cabin, all of which endure constant use from hundreds of daily passengers, over a lifecycle of several years. The fabrics and leathers must be tough and durable enough to withstand the intense wear.

The crossovers between all transport industries are starting to advance each other. Materials such as aluminium provide huge weight-saving opportunities, which of course benefit the aviation industry more than most. Demonstrating these crossovers, recently Factorydesign collaborated on our first train seat design, alongside Transcal and Acro Aircraft Seating. Rather than being made of steel & plywood like usual train seats, this seat is made of aerospace aluminium & the seat back of composites, meaning the seat can be ergonomically profiled which makes an important difference to comfort levels. The fusion of ideas from designers and engineers across all transport industries is beginning to open up a vast wealth of new possibilities. The majority of Factorydesign’s team have backgrounds in automotive design, and have been able to apply this passion and expertise to enhance the calibre of our aviation work.

The design of business class seating has drastically steered away from the dull and heavy appearance of decades past. The introduction of lie-flat beds, the focus on personal space and the vast customisation available through seat manufacturers have propelled this sector far from what it used to be. The larger areas of real-estate available to passengers means styling can be taken to a level that business class passengers are used to experiencing in their luxury vehicles. Even as far back as 2001, when Factorydesign was working on Concorde’s final interiors, director Adam White notes that the design elected for was “akin to a seat of an Aston Martin, in terms of appearance”. Airlines lead design direction with the expectations of the passenger, aligning the in-flight experience with the lifestyle and comfort that they are accustomed to. This is demonstrated perfectly in the “hotel in the sky” cabin of the Four Seasons jet. The soft white leather on each of the 52 seats is manufactured by Poltrona Frau, famous for their upholstery of top-tier supercar interiors including Ferrari and Maserati. The quality of the leather and precise stitching on each seat clearly exemplify the way luxury automotive influence is entering the aviation design world; this particular leather supplier has been collaborating with a select few prestigious airlines over recent years, including Etihad and Singapore Airlines. This introduction to higher levels of material quality is another step towards improving the passenger experience, as expectations heighten in the face of this growing trend. Travelling can be stressful, so the aim is to ensure a seamless transition from one transport to another, making the passenger feel relaxed and at ease.

This cross-pollination across all transport industries not only enhances the quality of travel experiences in general. It also means that without even realising it, passengers will be able to experience the same levels of comfort throughout a journey which may comprise several different modes of transport. Long journeys – having to move with luggage from car to train to plane – are stressful enough, and it is the job of designers to remove some of this stress. Especially for economy passengers, that one extra inch of legroom will make the world of difference, and in turn the airline or train company are able to fit larger numbers of seats without compromising on their passengers’ comfort. Rail and automotive industries can also get huge benefits from employing techniques that have originated in aviation, for example, where space and saving weight are of the utmost importance.

The crossover between industries has become slowly more evident over the years, with sleeker, chicer architecture in every cabin – the focus, as in automotive, all being around the passenger. They should feel naturally comfortable in an environment that should enhance their experience, especially on a long-haul flight. The attention to detail inspired by automotive design aesthetics help to raise the level in both micro and macro ways. Designers use styling techniques to create a huge difference to how the seats can appear, such as modern lines and curvature. A very recent example of this detailing is Delta’s new flagship A350 business class, the One Suites. The use of stitch patterns, ergonomically constructed surface changes and features were integrated to create a clearly defined language, a world away from the bulky, block seating of the past. Attention to detail and aesthetics are a major reason behind why some airlines and manufacturers are choosing to collaborate with luxury automotive companies to provide fresh visions and contemporary styles to breathe new life into their cabins. Just this week, Boeing announced their new partnership with leading automotive supplier, Adient. Mercedes has developed a VIP cabin concept alongside Lufthansa Technik. In forming such partnerships, design agencies hope to provide a fully streamlined experience across the passenger’s entire journey – from their home to their car, to the airport, to their destination.

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