Admitting it has experienced some wear-and-tear issues with newly installed recyclable carpet tiles on its Boeing 737s Southwest Airlines has begun evaluating an alternative solution, the APEX editor’s blog can exclusively reveal.
Southwest last year made big headlines in the aircraft interiors world when it choose environmentally friendly carpet tiles for its new EVOLVE interior, which is being retrofitted to current 737-700s and installed line-fit on Southwest’s 737-800s.
Boeing co-developed the concept along with carpet manufacturer Interface – formally known as InterfaceFLOR – and industrial design firm Teague, and Southwest initially flew the product on its so-called ‘green’ plane.
More than 100 aircraft have been fitted with the carpet tiles as part of the EVOLVE programme, confirms Southwest senior manager, culture and communications Marilee McInnis. But the carrier has observed a fraying of edges on some of the tiles. “Where it’s occurring is where it hits the hard surface – where the aisle hits the galley. So carpet to carpet is no problem,” says McInnis.
She says the carrier is trying to find out “why it’s happening and how to fix it and Interface has been a great partner and is working diligently to do that”.
Adds McInnis: “As you know, carpet tiles have never been used on an airplane before so whenever you try something new you go through testing after testing after testing. We carry more customers per year than any other airline in the United States so there are lots of people getting on and off the aircraft so we are learning some lessons.
“We’re learning what patterns look best on the aircraft, which show the least amount of wear. Interface has been a great partner in continually trying to improve the carpet for us, so we’re trying different iterations of the carpet, and are continuing [to roll out] Interface carpet on board.”
Speaking to the APEX editor’s blog at last week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo, Americas in Seattle, Interface segment VP, transportation Jaime Lanier said: “First, we are continuing to supply material to Southwest. As in any pioneering effort, and especially in the aircraft interiors market, you are going to encounter challenges neither you nor your client anticipated. It is no different here with Southwest as we strive to make an ultimate aircraft carpet tile for them and the industry.
“We are making some changes to accommodate the new interior for Southwest that did not present themselves during the initial testing. Those are underway as we speak. We are partnering with Southwest to resolve this issue, continue to service them to provide a satisfactory product while our product is in service, and both senior management’s have met to confirm our commitments to each other through these changes and evaluations.”
Whilst testing and refining continues, Southwest confirms it has begun evaluating another product from its previous carpet supplier, Mohawk Aviation Carpet. In the commercial market, Mohawk has been taking recycled water bottles and turning them into carpet fibre for years, but everything that it has manufactured for the last six to eight months – including aircraft carpet – has included this post consumer recyclable content.
“That’s the other carpet we’re currently testing,” says Southwest’s McInnis. “Right now, I think it’s on a single aircraft and I don’t know what the immediate plans are to increase the test.” She confirms, however, that the Interface and Mohawk products are the only two carpets being tested at this time.
Mohawk manager, aviation sales David Sandiford says airlines have been challenging the company to pull weight out of carpets, “and our opinions from our analysis is there is no better performing product at the lower weights than woven carpets”.
Typically in the commercial world, says Sandiford, “You make carpet tiles a very thick and heavy product and there’s a multitude of reasons for that – one is you want it to lay flat on whatever environment that you’re laying it onto. Concrete typically is a standard installation.
“And when you cut those tiles out into that tile shape, you’ve got have to have enough latex and binders on the back that the edges won’t fray. So the lighter-weight you make the carpet, the less material holding all that stuff together, the more opportunity for edge fray and edge ravel of the carpet on board the aircraft. So when people abrade the carpet with their feet, pull carts over it, things like that, the edges [can fray].”
The efficiency gains of the tile, including the ability to trade out a carpet tile that has a stain or a piece of gum on it without having to replace all the carpet, as well as durability and sustainability, is what attracted Southwest to the Interface product in the first place, says McInnis. “Those are still important to us but we have to make sure we have the durability we want and that’s where the testing comes in.”
If Southwest were to move away from carpet tiles, she notes, “It would be because we don’t think tiles are a viable alternative. The alternative we would look at would not be tiled carpet.”
Interface, meanwhile, lauds the continued partnership between Southwest, Interface and Boeing. Says Interface director, transportation products Kippen Westphal: “In general, as developmental partners, no one company can do it on their own and so you link to one another to gain the strength that it takes to be innovative in a highly regulated industry.”