What’s the dirty little secret about the airlines’ new cabin interiors?

When airlines announce a new cabin makeover for their aircraft, the traveling population celebrates such an announcement. What many fail to realize is that every airplane interior or cabin makeover has its corresponding impact on the environment.

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Growing Aircraft Interiors Market
The aircraft interiors market is at a historic high as the race for getting a share of the space inside the fuselage continues. By 2016, the market is estimated to reach $12 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 8% based on a report by Aircraft Interiors International Magazine. As old interiors get tossed out and players in the aircraft interiors industry escalates the race to get a contract, the life cycle of the cabin interiors is predicted to shorten.

Growing Aircraft Dismantling Market
The Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA) puts the numbers in perspective. The aircraft dismantling market is expected to reach $80 million by the end of 2014. This market is projected to continue to grow. This trend is referred to by AFRA as an “aircraft retirement Tsunami” and has already hit the industry in 2013 where 1,000 aircraft per year were retired from service.

Currently, before the aircraft is removed from service, an innumerable number of aircraft interiors have already been tossed out to give way for the new cabin fashions, thus aggravating the environmental situation. While aircraft manufacturers have no issues with the aircraft’s exterior aluminum-alloy panels fastened together by solid brass rivets, industry competition has led to more airlines improving the aircraft’s interiors by tossing out the old cabin and replacing it with a completely new one.

Sustainable Materials For Aircraft Cabin Interiors
And in the middle of all this, Boeing in Spain may have found an ideal solution. Sustainable wall panels for the aircraft’s interiors are being created by the giant aircraft manufacturer using flax – a simple sustainable material. The Madrid-based engineering team of Boeing had subjected these potentially eco-friendly interiors components through rigorous aviation testing.

Flax Fibers Used In Fabric Production
While flax fibers have already been used in fabric production, they have never been tried in the production of composites that can be formed into:

  • Seat shells
  • Aircraft cabin walls
  • Other decorative elements in the cabin which are currently composites made of plastic or glass-fiber

Headed by the Senior Technical Manager and Materials and Fuel Cells at Boeing Research Technology in Europe, Nieves Lapeña Rey explained that they have been “working with totally novel materials” with practically nothing written about them. The team had to “engineer” the novel materials and custom-tailor their properties. According to Lapeña Rey, what they are trying to develop are materials that offer similar performance and function to existing components in the aircraft’s interiors but with an environmental advantage.

What Are Flax Fibers?
Flax is a fiber crop and food grown in the world’s cooler regions. The unspun fibers of the plant are also called flax. These unspun flax fibers are formed into a textile that is specially treated with flame retardants that are non-halogenated which addresses the biggest aircraft interiors – passing the rigorous flammability testing requirements. To form the skin of the aircraft wall panels, the flax fabric that is flame-treated is impregnated by a resin.

Flax fibers that are specially treated with non-halogenated flame retardants are now being tested for use at aircraft’s cabin interior.

Consistent Supply Of Raw Materials
What made this new aircraft interior material good is that there is a readily available supply of the raw materials. Aircraft manufacturers in Europe can enjoy a consistent and steady flow of raw materials because there’s good flax everywhere. Lapeña Rey explains that their goal is to test the sustainable aircraft panels and if test results are successful, Boeing targets to implement them into the aircraft interiors in the foreseeable future.

Aircraft manufacturers are continuously developing high-tech but sustainable cabin products and will offer a huge range of opportunities for retrofits and new aircraft.

As a passenger, would you demand an aircraft that uses sustainable materials in the cabin and other parts of the plane?

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4 thoughts on “New Sustainable Composite Material For Aircraft Cabin Interiors”

  1. The growth in the use of lighter and stronger carbon-fiber composite parts to build airplanes has clearly taken off, literally, thanks in part to the multifunctional epoxy resins made by some of the leading companies who are competing in this race to capture this market boon. The use of these lighter and stronger materials has dramatically grown over the past decade, resulting in greater fuel efficiency and lower costs for the airline industry. No wonder there’s a demand for retro fitting services.

  2. To create a cabin interior in a V.I.P. private aircraft is one of the most exciting design challenges – each aircraft is different, each client is unique, and each design brief is as individual as our clients themselves. The results are some of the most beautiful and technically challenging interiors flying today. Of course, I’m talking about custom private jet refurbishing. I think it is a different animal to restore a fleet of commercial airlplanes.

  3. This so called dirty little secret’ of the airlines that has essentially come out in this article seems somewhat timely to me. After all, there may be a trend formulating throughout the automotive industry as well. Just look at the TV ad for the BMW 3i electric car which aired during Super Bowl 49. BMW dug into the archives and found an old clip of former Today show co-anchors Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel from 1994. BMW then cleverly flashes forward to the present day with Gumbel in the driver’s seat and Couric beside him in the brand new wind-powered BMW i3 model.

  4. Disease-causing bacteria can linger on surfaces in commercial airplane cabins for up to a week, according to an Auburn University study presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. The report obviously refers to current airliners. I certainly hope that the new generation of refurbished cabins with their improved, green materials also have some germ resistant properties.

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