Boeing’s decision not to offer the Boeing Sky Interior as a retrofit option to airlines has opened up big opportunities for Zodiac’s Heath Tecna, which has identified thousands of maturing Boeing 737 Next Generation cabins that could be retrofitted with its new Project Amber pivot bin interior.
“We’ve done a market study on airlines that have a fleet of 15 or more aircraft with Next Generation interiors, where the aircraft age is five years or older, and identified over 3,000 jet cabins that could be retrofitted with Project Amber,” Heath Tecna VP sales and marketing Gary Chris told the APEX editor’s blog at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo, Americas in Seattle.
“These airlines operate their aircraft with the older shelf bin interiors, and because their narrowbody Boeing fleet is big enough, they are willing to spend money to upgrade the cabins with a new pivot bin interior.”
But how is Project Amber different than the Boeing Sky Interior? “The biggest difference between the two interiors can be found in the bag capacity offered. With Project Amber, we can increase the amount of bags that can be stowed on a typical Boeing 737-800NG by 40%. And we’re able to do that because our patent pending design offers a little larger pivot bin in a unique configuration,” says Chris.
“When we began the project, our initial thought was, ‘let’s make something similar to the BSI for consistency sake’. But after looking more closely at Boeing’s new 737 interior, and talking to the airlines, we realized that whilst the aesthetics are great, potential customers wanted to push the boundaries of bin volume. Meeting with [C&D Zodiac VP of marketing] Scott Savian and the C&D Zodiac team, we came to the conclusion that the single biggest driver to optimizing the design should be to significantly increase the bag capacity of the aircraft.
“Our ‘Eureka!’ moment was when we decided to alternate non-standard bin sizes down the length of the cabin — with deeper than usual bins that measured 46 inches and 34 inches in length per module — to maximize the number of bags that could be stowed. If we would have chosen to evenly space out standard 40 inch bins, or failed to push the bin envelope, our gains to baggage capacity wouldn’t have been as great as they’ve become. Because of the decisions we made, passengers will be able to stow roller bags on their sides versus laying them down flat in the typical manner.”
Qantas will trial Project Amber on a 737 in late November/early December. Retrofit equipment for the launch aircraft will include a ceiling panel rework kit, overhead bin valances, the uniquely configured pivot bin system, a bin assist system, passenger service units, and underbin class dividers. Other airlines have taken notice of the project.
“We have a few potential customers right now, and they are actually going to come down to Australia and have a look at Project Amber when it’s installed. It’s pretty exciting for Heath Tecna to get this trial going, and get it out there so people can see it in the market, as I think it will be a big push for the rest of the airlines to follow,” says Chris.
“In the meantime, we’ve been hearing a lot of good feedback from airlines who’ve studied the features and benefits of the interior, and had a chance to put the prototype through its paces. With Project Amber, you get that feeling of wide-open space, and the airlines like that. Of course they consider the extra bin volume to be one of the biggest benefits. For example, when you consider that one of Project Amber’s advantages is that everybody can have their roller bag over their head, in their row, when the economy seat spacing is set to the standard 31 inch pitch, it’s hard not to be impressed.”
The pivot bin interior can also be retrofitted to aged Boeing 757s. Passengers do lose some headroom in a Project Amber cabin, but Chris says the company has talked to airlines “and said, ‘Okay, you lose an inch or an inch-and-a-half in headroom because the bins come inboard, but you gain 40% in bag volume. If you were a passenger, would you complain about losing 1inch in headroom if it meant you could get your carry-on in the overhead bin? And let’s not forget that you get to put it in the bin over your head, and not somewhere further down the cabin.’ Not being able to stow a carry-on nearby means the passenger has to hunt for space, which interrupts the boarding process, which impacts turnaround time.”
Meanwhile, C&D Zodiac recently unveiled a new interior for the A320 retrofit market. The company hopes to spark Airbus’ interest in offering the new interior on its re-engined A320neos. See video of the so-called SmartBin below.