Airbus and Zodiac Aerospace are developing lower-deck sleeping berths Airbus

Jury Is Still Out On Airbus Lower-Deck Module

Airbus and Zodiac plan to have a demonstrator ready in 2020.

TOULOUSE—As Airbus and Zodiac Aerospace refine the design of the lower-deck cabin module they plan to offer on the A330, potential airline customers still have to find a way to use the extra space and, eventually, a business case needs to be made. 

Depending on the service provided, flight attendants may have to work more during the cruise phase. Such a change may trigger negotiations between airline management and unions. And the company selling the space—a sleeping berth or a conference room—may not be the carrier itself.

Airbus remains confident in the potential for success, as the unveiling of the concept in April was prompted by the expression of interest from several airlines, Sophie Pendaries, Airbus’ head of cabin strategy, said during a visit of the mockup here at Airbus’ headquarters.

While Airbus is in charge of certification, Zodiac is responsible for the layout. One module can fit a welcome area, a small playground for children, a conference room for 6-8 persons or six berths. An A330 could thus have a maximum 24 berths. But the concept is presented as a clean sheet of paper to prospective customers, which could use it to create new passenger experiences.

The offering is still a work in progress, as the number of modules an A330 could accommodate is now suggested to be four, instead of an earlier reference to three. A demonstrator is planned to fly in 2020 with passengers, providing Airbus and Zodiac find a partner airline.

The move was targeted by the weakening value of belly cargo, Pendaries said. A similar idea had emerged in 1992-93 for the A340-300, but went nowhere. Cargo space, at the time, was selling for higher prices, Pendaries explained. Moreover, the lower-deck cabin was to feature a stand-up arrangement and would have involved airframe modifications, which the new concept does not include.

Also supporting the new plan is the trend of market segmentation in which carriers offer a variety of level of services, Pendaries added.

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