While aircraft manufacturing executives made deals, discussed the price of crude oil and traded stats on fuel efficiency, luxury travel purveyors were busy in Paris-Le Bourget checking out the latest innovations and improvements made to business and first class cabins. Wrapping up yesterday, the six-day Paris Air Show hosted 140 aircraft, 2100 exhibitors and 138,000 professional visitors from around the world, yielding record-breaking sales.
The 100-year old biannual event is not only the world’s largest international trade fair for the aviation and aerospace industries but it is also a bellwether. From the proportion of premium to economy cabins and by the total size of orders, analysts agreed that air travel passenger numbers are set to substantially rise, including those at the luxury end.
In the bigger picture, the show highlighted some interesting if not totally unexpected trends. Asia has now clearly come to dominate the sector as its airlines continue to propel growth and shell out the biggest money for both single orders and total order valuations. According to the Financial Times, there is another dimension to this as well. Manufacturers from emerging markets including China are taking a bigger slice of the action from Boeing in the U.S. and Airbus in France.
“As Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing’s civil jet division, acknowledged in Paris, the two big manufacturers can no longer count on a duopoly. Smaller rivals Bombardier of Canada, Embraer of Brazil, Comac of China and Irkut of Russia will all compete, especially in emerging markets,” wrote the FT’s deputy emerging markets editor, Jonathan Wheatley.
What’s more, three other stories emerged from the show which confirmed Asia’s ascendancy specifically in the luxury sector of the airline industry. The Los Angeles Times gave a rundown of the interior enhancements made to the long-range, mid-size Boeing 787 Dreamliner by All Nippon Airways of Japan. Business-class passengers on international flights will have aisle access from every seat and full flat beds, along with oversized 17-inch touch-panel LCD screens.
“We want passengers to see the difference of quality and comfort as soon as they board the aircraft,” said Satoshi Fujiki, a senior vice president for the carrier’s Americas division. “This is a game-changing aircraft.”
The main features include wide seats in business class that recline into beds, giant 17-inch touch-panel LCD movie screens and roomy bathrooms that will have a toilet which also functions as a bidet. The new 787 interior design addresses common complaints among air travelers such as the need for more legroom, more comfort, better air quality and humidity as well as more natural light from the outside thanks to oversized 19-inch windows.
“The look hearkens back to when Boeing’s 747 jumbo jet first took to the skies in the early 1970s for Pan American World Airways. Before the 747, traveling on a plane felt like flying in a cramped metal tube. It wasn’t until Pan Am began offering movies, elegant meals and even piano bars that other airlines saw the appeal of luxury travel. All Nippon wanted a similar effect when designing its interiors for the 787 Dreamliner...,” wrote the author, W.J. Hennigan.
Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group Corp told him that “people remember the golden age of travel where they’d find piano bars on a plane. I don’t know if we’re going back there, but better amenities and service will attract the premier passengers, which is key to long-haul carriers.”
Another Asian airline upping the ante is Korean Air. According to the Australian Business Traveller, its newly unveiled Airbus A380 “raises the superjumbo stakes with fewer seats, more space and the world’s first in-flight duty free shop,” wrote ABT’s David Flynn.
“It’s also the first A380 to see the upper deck dedicated entirely to business class, although unlike Singapore Airlines’ similar A380 layout the Korean Air configuration leaves room for a massive lounge at the rear of the upstairs cabin. Korean Air says this isn’t just about more space all around — it also makes for faster boarding and disembarking, especially for business class passengers who can use the dedicated upper deck doorways.”
There are also two lounges for premium passengers. One is a small area near the aircraft’s nose, where two people can gather for a chat or to stretch their legs. The other is at the back of the upper deck where there is a much more spacious Celestial Lounge and bar, located where other airlines using the A380 have five rows of premium economy seating.
“The first class cabin has 12 ‘Kosmo’ suites. Each cubicle is equipped with a widescreen LCD display and Bose noise-cancelling headphones. The upper deck is the exclusive domain of 94 lie-flat ‘Prestige’ business class sleeper seats in a 2-2-2 layout, with a privacy divider between seats and a 15.4 inch personal LCD screen stowed in the armrest.”
Also at the show, the 2011 World Airline Awards were announced, revealing that Asian and Middle Eastern airlines continue to be considered best in class at the luxury end. A few of the more notable awards included the World’s Best First Class Airline which was given to Etihad Airways (of the United Arab Emirates), the World’s Best Business Class which was won by Singapore Airlines, the World’s Best First Class Airline Seat which went to Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong’s flag carrier), the World’s Best First Class Airline Lounge (to Qatar Airways).
The awards are determined by analysing customer satisfaction for airline passenger experience. Over a 10-month period, 18.8 million airline customers from more than 100 different nationalities participated in a survey by Skytrax.
Oman Air was named winner of the World’s Best Business Class Airline Seat award. The runners-up in this category are Singapore Airlines taking 2nd place, ahead of Qatar Airways in 3rd place.
Zawya reported that in addition to an ottoman which it refers to as a “buddy seat” large enough for a guest to sit and dine with another person at the single-piece table, other features of the cubicle include a main seat that “offers comfort and luxury within an 82-inch pitch, direct aisle access for every passenger and converts to a 77.5-inch long fully lie-flat bed.
“A 17-inch inflight entertainment screen gives access to a huge range of movies, music and games, whilst a universal power point, USB port and iPod sockets enable passengers to personalise their entertainment options by plugging in their laptops, smart phones, tablet PCs or games consoles. Retractable privacy screens, buddy seats and ample storage add to the experience, putting the passenger fully in control of their personal space.”
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