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Passenger Experience Conference

Aircraft interiors industry must think outside the box as well as the cabin

The crucial importance of creativity in both the technology and service sectors was highlighted in the opening and closing sessions of the Passenger Experience Conference which took place on 13 April 2015 at the CCH – Congress Centre, Hamburg.

Opening the proceedings of the Passenger Experience Conference on 13 April 2015, Professor Richard Seymour, founder of Seymourpowell, one of Europe’s most well-known and accomplished designers, urged air transport industry delegates to stop their preoccupation with providing airline passengers with packaged entertainment and open up their minds to the wonders of the world above which they are travelling.

Drawing on his involvement in a range of future focused programmes, Seymour explained that cameras are being developed that generate extraordinary images of the ground from 38,000 feet, enabling passengers to view in real time wildlife on the Serengeti or the ruins of an ancient city. On a more basic level, opportunities offered by the air bridge connecting the aircraft with the airport terminal should be exploited. Currently this gateway to an exciting new destination is a tunnel that’s cold in winter, hot in summer and smells faintly of lubricant.

He stated that the aircraft interiors industry must also learn from the innovation and imagination being employed by other sectors, citing the fashion and toy industries as examples. There was a danger of air travel diverging itself from the exciting developments taking place elsewhere.

Not all the solutions need involve hardware, or great cost. Seymour said that an air travel trip can be fraught with numerous anxieties and uncertainties which can quite often be addressed simply and economically. An example was Disney World, which had recognised that visitors waiting for the monorail were worried about where they should position themselves on the busy platform to ensure they were opposite a carriage door. The solution was to paint a series of ‘footprints’ on the platform at the appropriate places.

Seymour also stressed that in this age of technology the service dimension – once one of the hallmarks of air travel – should not be overlooked. To illustrate the power of recognition, he gave the example of the bar steward who asks the customer if they want ‘The usual’. Making the passenger feel warm about the service they receive – and fascinated by the visual innovations they would experience – would do much to help them overlook some of the inevitable inconveniences associated with air travel.

In his concluding remarks, Seymour highlighted the importance of looking into the long-term future, rather than the next year or two, recalling a comment by Apple’s Steve Jobs that: “The further you look into the future, the less competition there is”.

The closing sessions featured three more outstanding creative minds, namely Reuben Arnold, Brand and Customer Engagement Director, Virgin Atlantic; Dr Helge Sachs, Head of Corporate Innovation Management and Product Development, Lufthansa Technik; and Janis Vanags, Vice-President Corporate Communications, airBaltic. In a debate moderated by Blake Emery, Director Differentiation Strategy, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the three experts defined what innovation meant to them and how it was delivered in their organisations.

Arnold said there is no such thing as a bad idea and that creative thinking had come from various parts of the Virgin Atlantic organisation. He also warned against becoming too fixated by research: sometimes the best way to test a new idea was to implement it. This last sentiment was echoed by Vanags. airBaltic has achieved international recognition for ground-breaking ideas in the passenger experience sector but it was not unknown for some of these to fail. He said that it was important to learn from failures as well as successes.

Lufthansa’s Sachs explained that his organisation’s process and product innovation was driven by such factors as observation of nature; for example, studying shark skin to further the development of reduced drag on aircraft. He also described the role of the innovation funnel in bringing concepts into operational life. This included a system whereby the teams that developed the ideas presented them to the Executive Board.

“The Passenger Experience Conference today featured an impressive platform of thought leaders. They successfully addressed a wide range of issues currently topping the agenda in this industry, which stimulated questions from the many delegates who participated in discussion sessions. I’d like to thank all the speakers for their valuable and insightful contributions which have made this such an authoritative event that has furthered the passenger experience debate,” said Katie Murphy, Senior Event Director of Aircraft Interiors Expo.

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