Even as airlines are whittling down the amenities for coach-class passengers, they’re dreaming big when it comes to aircraft design.
In the last year alone, industry players have introduced an array of grandiose upgrades, from Airbus’s yacht-like look for Luftansa’s VIP cabins and award-winning below-deck sleeping arrangements to KLM’s concept for a new plane that would seat passengers inside its wings. Standing room only? There’s a blueprint for that. Middle seats with more elbow room? They’re on the way. Now another company is looking to enter the fray, one cargo-bay suite at a time.
Or at least that’s the plan. French aeronautics engineer Florian Barjot has conceived a design that would replace the cargo-hold door with an aluminum and titanium frame holding rows and rows of windows. The proposed product, called EarthBay, would transform the forward bay into a luxe, light-filled passenger cabin that’s customizable to the airline’s preferences—a suite with sleeping quarters, say, or roomy business-class seats, or VIP lounge areas—while the aft bay would remain clear for luggage and the like. It could also provide extra economy-class seating for low-cost operators, or shift galleys and toilets down a level in order to create more wiggle room upstairs.
Floor-to-ceiling windows on a plane seem like a risk, but each set would comprise multiple layers of transparent materials dedicated to specific functions, like impact protection, pressure sealing, and redundancy. To remain compliant with safety regulations, the re-imagined space would only be accessible once the plane hit cruising altitude, so any passenger who bought a seat below deck would have to stay upstairs, buckled in, during taxiing, take-off, and landing.
Barjot has been working to develop the EarthBay concept since 2017 and sees a path to putting the finished product into service by 2024. Though his design is compatible with new planes, carriers will also have the option of retrofitting their existing cabins to meet the relevant specs. The costs would be hefty, but a renovation might be worth the expense: Barjot predicts that converting a portion of the cargo hold for passenger use could generate up to US$4 million per year per aircraft.
“Passengers prefer windows,” he wrote in his proposal. “Looking outside during a flight is...real entertainment that only a plane can provide.