Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Sleeper Plane Reborn

From DST to AbH

The idea of creating sleeper planes by adding tiers in a passenger cabin dates back almost to the beginnings of commercial aviation. Back in the 1930s, the legendary DC-3 actually began as a luxury sleeper transport, fittingly dubbed the Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST). The aircraft had a standard capacity of 14 passengers—the seven lower berths converted into 14 large seats for the day travel while the seven upper berths folded into the ceiling. There were two dressing rooms and lavatories located in the rear of the cabin; a galley provided hot meals. There was also a honeymoon cabin up front. In the railroad-oriented thinking of the time this was a flying Pullman car.

Although the DST and similar designs that followed worked and were welcomed by long-haul air travelers with money to spare, such sleeper planes were ultimately canceled due to economic reasons. While a DST could carry 14 to 16 passengers, a DC-3—the DST’s regular seating counterpart—had a standard capacity of between 21 and 28 passengers, with a maximum capacity of 32 passengers. The significant passenger capacity reduction in the DST meant that these kinds of accommodations were too expensive for the average air traveler and, in the end, economically unviable. Since then, creating a cabin configuration capable of maintaining costs, while still providing all travelers with enough room to rest and sleep comfortably, has remained a seemingly unattainable ideal—pie in the sky.

As flight routes steadily multiplied and became longer, people could fly farther and to more destinations than ever before; this, however, also led to the deterioration of the general flight experience. For many decades, the airline industry’s focus was solely oriented towards cost reduction, and seat pitch was constantly reduced. In recent years, the flying public’s requirements and the airline industry’s focus have gradually shifted—from absolute cost-efficiency and the search for the lowest possible airfare (at the expense of comfort) to a more value and comfort-oriented service; however, an integral solution that provides a lie-flat bed for every passenger on board, without affecting the bottom line for both carriers and passengers, has remained elusive.

.With the advent of the A380 superjumbo, the industry has witnessed a true renaissance in aircraft interior design. First, there were the “pod” seats for business-class; then, the luxurious “suites” for first-class were introduced; and now, the surge in “premium” economy-class offerings, with new innovations surrounding this segment. It is evident that, with ever-longer flight routes and an ever-increasing need for air travel, being able to lie down and sleep has ceased to be a luxury and is quickly becoming a basic necessity—one that carriers seem to know must be addressed. This reality has spawned a renovated interest in bi-level cabin solutions as a viable approach to attain sleeper cabin comfort for economy and premium economy in long-haul flights, without the inevitable loss of passenger density in aircraft.
Finding a functional and cost-effective solution which guarantees that everybody wins is always a complex task; we at Airborne Hotel Systems believe the Airborne Hotel (AbH) sleeper cabin concept could be that long-sought solution.
DST-AbH Comparison
It can be said that the AbH concept takes off where the DST left off. The fundamental difference between the two designs lies in the optimum distribution of the space available that is achieved by the AbH system. While a DST could not compete with the passenger capacity of its regular seating counterpart—the DC3—the AbH design can equal, or even surpass, the seat densities attained by conventional seating layouts.
This breakthrough promises to forever transform the flying experience of the average passenger, greatly improving overall comfort and well-being; plus, by achieving this objective without compromising seating capacity in aircraft, the AbH concept offers operators a profit-oriented all-in-one solution.
Class differentiation will likewise be transformed. At present, class is defined principally by the abundance or lack of longitudinal space and, thus, the ability to lay down and sleep comfortably; with AbH, class will be defined mostly by the subtler aspects that constitute true luxury—the level of personalized attention, the abundance of amenities, the lushness of the on board environment, and other privileges. In other words, class will be in the details.

Another important difference between the DST and AbH designs is autonomy. In a DST cabin, as in a Pullman car, flight attendants were in charge of turning seats into beds, and vice versa; they would also need to bring a ladder and hold it in order for occupants to climb in or out of the upper berths. The AbH design permits for each seat to be transformed into a bed independently and without crew assistance being necessary; plus, the design's integrated ladders ensure that upper tier occupants can enter or abandon their seats at will.

At the heart of the AbH system’s effectiveness is its exclusive implementation of a third aisle in the passenger cabin. This unique feature ensures that all modules—single and double—have direct access to an aisle; plus, up to 70% of economy class seats are directly next to an aisle, compared to approximately 40% in conventional cabin layouts—an increase of up to 80%. A third aisle also increases corridor space by as much as 50%, a factor that can help make boarding and disembarking more efficient.

.In AbH layouts, aisles generally have a width of roughly 20 inches in economy-class, and 28 inches in business/premium class. Seat width in economy is approximately 20 inches, and 28 inches in business/premium—these measurements vary depending on aircraft and cabin type. In other words, seat and aisle width in AbH cabins is consistent with that of conventional cabin layouts.
The floor of the upper tiers is never set higher than 1.30m (just over four feet). All lower-level seats—especially those next to an aisle—are ideal accommodations for senior and handicapped persons, as well as other passengers with special needs, such as large persons, pregnant women or mothers with small babies; floor-level seats always comprise over 50% of seats in AbH cabin arrangements. Additionally, the curvature of the fuselage in aircraft cabins (or on the upper deck of an A380) allows for a special niche within all window seat units that can conveniently fit a baby crib (between the seat and the fuselage) safely away from aisle traffic.
In summary, these are the main characteristics that differentiate AbH from the DST, making it a worthy successor as well as a viable possibility for the imminent rebirth of the sleeper plane.

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