Few airline CEOs are as stingy at Ryanair’s Tony O’Leary, who once discussed removing window shades to save on cleaning and maintenance costs. But those sliding panels do require some care, and they are a crude device for achieving their purposes: cutting solar heat from warming cabins on the ground, reducing unwelcome sun-glare in passengers’ eyes and darkening the cabin for sleep at night.
The alternative, electrically dimmable windows, has been around since about 2001, when they were installed in Learjets and have never needed servicing since, according to Michael LaPointe, vice president of Research Frontiers, which makes SmartGlass. But this first version was a panel that was installed in between the outside structural window and the inside "scratch-pane," making them a bit awkward to retrofit.
Now a new version replaces the scratch-pane, easing retrofit considerably. The new SmartGlass can switch from clear to blocking 99% of light in less than a second, can be automatically dimmed on the ramp to block heat, can be curved to fit fuselage shape and has been certified for the aftermarket.
SmartGlass has already been installed on Qantas’s Airbus A380s, and LaPointe thinks it is well suited to a wider market among commercial aircraft. “MRO and cleaning costs come down, and you save on power to cool the aircraft,” LaPoint notes. “And it can improve the passenger experience.”
With SmartGlass, passengers need not choose between being blinded by the sun and being unable to see anything on the ground. Individual controls let them moderate the blocking power of each window for comfort and view. Passengers can even set and forget each window to allow a certain measure of light in. Or cabin crew can control to ensure no passengers are inconvenienced by glare. The sophisticated devices can also be coordinated with mood lighting, an increasingly popular amenity. And SmartGlass can also reduce noise in the cabin by about 10 decibels, or by about half.
LaPointe says the new version of SmartGlass can be installed, along with controls, during a typical heavy check.