Business Traveller

Innovative or impossible? Airbus patent detaches the cabin from the airplane

Ben Brumfield, CNNUpdated 3rd December 2015
(CNN) — Squeezing out a net profit is tough in the airline business. And while straining to do so, plane manufacturers have come up with some interesting ideas.
The latest: Turn cabins -- the part of the plane where you sit -- into detachable modules separate from the planes. Then mix 'em and match 'em, and you save all kinds of time and money, says Airbus, which got a U.S. patent on the idea this week.
But first, back to those profits. With the peppery price of a plane ticket, you don't believe it, eh?
Currently, airlines pocket an average of $8.27 per passenger, said the International Air Transport Association. And that's a recent improvement, thanks to falling fuel prices and a rebounding economy.
Airplane manufacturer Airbus has patented a modular system, where the cabin is detached from the plane during boarding.

Weird, uncomfortable seats

Remember the recent weird patents for cramped plane seats? Bicycle-style stools, passenger seats piled on top of each other, dividers that you lean against instead of sitting on? Those patents pinch pennies by cramming more passengers into a cabin.
But the new detachable cabin model and its potential accomplishments are much more complex, Airbus said in its new patent filing, which was entered in February but granted this week. A report about it was first published in Wired.
Here's how the idea works.
Instead of boarding a whole plane, passengers climb into the detached cabin, which is suspended in a dock at the gate on crane-like arms.
Last year, Airbus filed a patent that totally reimagines the concept of the cockpit. For starters, the cockpit would move away from a window. Instead, the patent floats the idea of the cockpit being stored underneath the cabin or at the back of the plane. This would allow the nose of the plane to be longer, pointier, and hence more aerodynamic. Pilots would glimpse the world outside using a digital display.
The whole time people are heaving carry-ons and shimmying into seats, the rest of the plane can be away from the gate, getting more fuel or a mechanical check. It's not stuck waiting for passengers to get settled.
And stepping aboard would be a breeze for passengers, since the cabin floor would be flush with a floor at the gate.
"Transfer of passengers, luggage or freight can thus be accomplished optimally, and in particular without using a staircase or a lift or elevator," the patent filing read.

Then, there's reality

Waiting areas at gates would hardly be necessary anymore, since people would directly seat themselves in the modules. That would also save boarding time, and security checks could be run incrementally, as passengers arrived at the cabin.
Cabin modules could also be customized to hold freight, so the underlying planes could be used to transport both people and product.
The cockpit would be solidly attached to the plane part, rather than the cabin module, so pilots could steer the plane around on the ground as needed.
Airbus has filed for a patent on a new plane design that would seat passengers in a circle. Miles O'Brien explains.
Nifty idea, but plane redesigns can take years and years, especially such massive ones.
And in this case, airports would also have to be redesigned massively to accommodate the modular pod idea.
As with many outlandish-sounding patents, this one may never see the light of day. Airline companies file hundreds of patents each year, Airbus said.
"We do this to protect our ideas, but many of these never actually develop beyond concept stages," said Robert Gage, head of media relations for Airbus in the United Kingdom.
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