The architects of the A380 started with a blank sheet of paper and a vision to help reduce airport congestion thanks to a bigger plane. That meant rethinking every aspect of travel on a commercial airplane.
When the first A380 entered commercial service in October 2007, it was the culmination of more than 20 years of engineering and planning. The outcome was very positive: a plane that could provide the perfect cabin experience for passengers.
Roland Naudy, Interiors Marketing Manager for the A380 at Airbus, attributes the inflight experience to what he calls the “DNA of the plane”.
“It’s the quietest cabin in the sky – it’s very quiet and very smooth,” he says. “This technical DNA, along with the extra personal space on the plane, contributes to an exceptional cabin experience.”
“When you’re flying on the A380, you’re not just flying on any airplane. If you’re based in London and you fly to Bangkok, you don’t go home and say you went to Bangkok – you say you went to Bangkok on the A380. This has happened many, many times.”
“Your trip starts not when you reach your destination but right when you get on the plane.”
A New Way of TravelingMaking the A380 part of the journey is a key ambition for design teams working on the plane.
Jacques Pierrejean, one of the world’s leading designers, was recruited first by Emirates and then Singapore Airlines to help revolutionize First and Business Class travel in this way.
“The idea was to offer A380 passengers the same level of comfort they would have in a private airplane,” he says.
“We used our experience with private aircraft to do things differently. We said, ‘OK, when you are a First Class passenger, you are traveling from your office or your home in a premium car. We said that this would be quality we would aim for on this airplane.
“And to achieve the level of quality of a luxury car, we would have unique details, exquisite materials… we would make sure the different parts of the plane meet these standards of elegance.”
Using high quality, luxurious materials that set new standards for commercial planes was vital. The interiors needed to impress and inspire travelers. Materials previously used only on private aircraft were therefore adapted for A380 cabin interiors. Doors and partitions were also introduced to create private areas that provided exceptional space and intimacy.
He said this level of luxury was possible thanks to the size of the double decker and its additional space.
“The A380 is wider, larger than other airplanes. That means there is space for additional features. For example, we used the space under the window panel for personal storage, for a table and so on to give an impression of a private plane.”
He says cabin configurations depend to a large extent on individual airlines and their ambitions for their planes.
“For example, Singapore Airlines was looking for something completely unique,” says Jacques Pierrejean.
“So we said, ‘why not offer a ‘sky room’ like a bedroom in a hotel?’ We really moved to another level of comfort. You have some doors that make it a private area, you have a comfortable seat that swivels so you can angle it toward the window, or turn it to work at your desk or have dinner. We used part of the bulkhead area for a bed that offers extra comfort because of the tilting headrest. In front of you there is a big TV and you have a lot of different accessories. Again, this arrangement was possible due to a different configuration of the floor space.”
Roland Naudy agrees the hotel-style privacy afforded on the A380 sets it apart from other planes. “Many airlines have introduced the concept of a mini-suite. This provides more space and more privacy – you can not only have your own seat but also your own bed. This was a completely new idea for First Class travel.”
A Modern Flight ExperienceFor Jacques Pierrejean, working on a completely new plane was part of the appeal of designing A380 cabins.
“At the start of our collaboration with Emirates, the plane was still being designed,” he says. “So we asked Airbus, for example, for a different type of ceiling to keep the shape and the curve of the fuselage, to highlight the uniqueness of the plane.”
The Jacques Pierrejean design team proposed other changes, too, such as LED lighting, which was new to commercial airplanes.
“It’s like a theatre – you have different actors and ambiance and it was the same for us,” Pierrejean adds. “At different times of the day we wanted to provide different types of lighting.”
Lighting, he says, can help an aircraft feel different and fresh throughout the course of a long flight. It can be turned on brighter to simulate a morning sunrise, for example, or softer as the evening sets in.
But lighting is just part of the exquisite experience to come. Other revolutionary concepts were also designed specifically for Business and First Class.
“We included a bar and lounge area complete with lots of bottles to give the ambiance of a pub or a bar,” he says. “We wanted it to be a friendly social space for passengers.”
The main bar area on the original Emirates planes was designed to bring First and Business Class passengers together in comfort. An additional ‘snack bar’ was then included on the upper deck for the exclusive use of First Class passengers.
The “wow-factor” on the A380, though, came in the shape of something even more revolutionary.
“At the beginning when we defined the floor plan for the A380, we knew there was some space at the front where there were no windows,” he says.
“So what could we do with the space? Now, if I’m a First Class passenger, I’m looking for the comfort of a private plane. So how about installing a shower?”
He said there were challenges to overcome in terms of water storage and weight, but that each of them was discussed with both Airbus and the airline.
“Once you have a shower, you create a new experience that is unique to the airplane,” says Roland Naudy.
“First Class passengers are used to flying First Class, so you need to be able to surprise them with new experiences, and the shower on the A380 brings this new experience.”
“The space on the A380 has allowed airlines to come up with new concepts and new ideas like this. In this way, they have been able to build an ideal cabin experience.”
For example, the new Singapore Airlines First Class cabins perfectly showcase the best of modern flying. They – like the new A380 design ideas that came before them – have set a new benchmark in terms of luxury in the air.
As new generations of the plane take to the skies, the A380 will continue evolving to delight passengers and constantly raise the bar.