Five years in the making: How Etihad changed the face of air travel
Etihad Airways will launch the world’s most highly customised cabin interiors for the A380 and B787 Dreamliner fleets later this year.
The Abu Dhabi airline and three UK design agencies undertook both aircraft interior programmes over five years, representing the single biggest commitment to cabin interior product design in history.
The airline’s new A380 and B787 aircraft will introduce a variety of new-to-market design solutions including a three-room VIP cabin ‘The Residence by Etihad’ and the world’s first wide-bodied single aisle First Class cabin.
In late 2008 Etihad Airways embarked on a search for a design agency partner to design their future cabin interiors for their new fleet of A380s. The airline aimed to disrupt the conventional status quo that plagued the global aviation industry.
Following a global pitch process, Etihad Airways asked a number of agencies to work together and created the Etihad Design Consortium (EDC), which comprised three companies, Acumen, Factorydesign and Honour Branding.
Acumen was chosen to design the onboard seating across First Class, Business and Economy.
Factorydesign was tasked with designing the passenger experience and cabin interior elements such as galleys, lavatories and passenger destination zones.
Honour Branding was asked to coordinate the project across the EDC and manage the interface with Etihad. Honour’s role was to advise Etihad on the innovation process and define the design strategy for the concept work.
As the cabin interior products emerged Honour and Factorydesign were tasked with working closely together to design the onboard guest experience, including the new catering and onboard service offering.
“Our ambition was to create the ultimate travel experience – and truly embrace the ‘hotel in the sky’. This approach enabled us to question some of the fundamental aspects of the cabin interior and create an experience centred around the guest,” said Mike Crump, partner director, Honour.
“Etihad set out an ambitious innovation agenda for its new aircraft and created a brief to encourage blue sky thinking that would break the mould. The client did not want the design team to be constrained by the past and asked the EDC to challenge everything,” added Crump.
The project began with an extensive and unique piece of customer research, the ‘Etihad Big Talks’ in cities around the world. The EDC partnered with Promise Communispace, a co-creation agency, to put the customer at the heart of the innovation process.
Eighty per cent of the new product offering today is a direct result of customer feedback and information garnered from these workshops.
The initial concepts were developed into physical full size mock-ups and were tested with customers to help evaluate and narrow down the options. EDC then developed the preferred concepts and built a partial full-scale mock up of the upper deck A380 and an entrance area on the main deck, at a secret location in a warehouse near Heathrow Airport, which later became the innovation lab for development meetings and concept testing.
Through 2011/2012 the EDC developed the concepts and began to interact with Airbus and the chosen vendors to understand the technical interfaces of the new concepts into the aircraft, supporting the airline through key design and technical milestones.
During this time work also started on translating the A380 product vision across the new B787 and adapting the products to meet the challenging constraints of the new catalogue aircraft. This resulted in a new First Class suite product with a forward and aft configuration, enabling the width of the seat to be increased and create a unique ‘joggled’ aisle configuration.
Crump said: “As Airbus and Boeing were involved from the concept stage, some of the earlier technical challenges were able to be resolved in the early stages, enabling the team to iron out any of the certification issues that could cause problems with the new designs.
“A single aisle on a wide-bodied aircraft for First Class had never been done before and was fundamental to delivering the apartment seat layout.”
As the project moved into the technical design phase through 2013/14, EDC continued to support the Etihad team and the global supplier base to deliver the products to reality.
As the designs became more defined the mock-ups were updated to reflect the final product. The A380 and B787 mock up cabin sections were transported to Abu Dhabi to be built in the airline’s new Innovation Centre, which serves as a futures innovation lab, global showcase, and staff training facility.
James Hogan, President and CEO of Etihad Airways, said: “These new spaces will raise inflight product and service standards to their highest level yet in commercial aviation and alter air travellers’ expectations of inflight comfort and luxury forever.”