Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Skift: Airbus Wants Airlines to Radically Rethink the Passenger Experience

by Brian Sumers, Skift (Excerpt)

When it comes to innovation, the world’s airlines rarely demand massive change from aircraft manufacturers. […]

Airbus seeks to introduce a new platform that could make it more practical for airlines to temporarily install coffee shops, gyms, yoga studios, children’s play areas, sleeping pods or bars.

These amenities have been possible before, and airlines have almost universally not wanted them. But this time could be different, Airbus says. The company is calculating its new concept might permit carriers to add features in a more cost-effective manner.

Flexibility is key. Through the program, which Airbus calls “Transpose,” an airline could reconfigure cabins for every flight. A carrier might add sleeping pods and an in-flight coffee bar for a long and potentially lucrative Airbus A330 flight from Los Angeles to Munich. But then the airline could replace the pods and bar with extra coach seats for the aircraft’s next flight to Mumbai, which is shorter and might have fewer high-value customers.

By using technology now common on all-cargo aircraft, Airbus is betting an airline could transform cabins in minutes or hours. Today, an airline that installs a bar is stuck with it on every flight until it retrofits an aircraft, a time-consuming process that can take weeks or even months.

Still, passengers shouldn’t get too excited. Airbus hasn’t fully worked out the technology, and it will be two to four years before the company plans to show it off on a flying plane. That’s assuming the project isn’t killed first, because of a lack of customers, or pushback from regulators.

And even if Airbus solves its technical issues and the product comes to market, there’s no indication airlines would want the flashy amenities. When Airbus developed the A380 a decade ago, it promised airlines they could install casinos, gyms, beauty salons and showers. But except for two airlines that installed showers, none of that stuff ever came to market.

Most carriers just prefer seats — lots of them. […]

Even if this idea never comes to market, it won’t necessarily be a failure, said Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group and an expert on corporate innovation. Airbus, he noted, is one of many corporations that has set up a Silicon Valley outpost in hopes its California-based employees can “sort of breathe the air and drink the water to create new products.”

Sometimes the innovation centers do not not produce viable products, and the corporation still benefits, Solis said.

“They really do believe in this mantra of failure is a good thing,” Solis said. “When it comes to innovation centers, one of the metrics to success is, did you learn new expertise? Did the team gain new experiences and insight? And can those make the team strong to continue to innovate?”

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