The contract to provide carpeting on planes is perhaps not the most glamorous side of aviation.
But for Wilbert Beilsma, the export manager for Dutch carpet company Desso, the subtleties of the weave and the yarn can save an airline 4,000 euros (5,650 US) per plane in annual fuel costs if the carpet is lightweight enough.
AdvertisementIt is a design they need to protect -- "it's so secret not even NASA knows," he says -- in order to grab more of the 10 percent worldwide market share Desso currently lays claim to.
Carpets cover just a small patch of the worldwide market for aircraft interiors, where competition to provide luxury, innovation and money-saving products is as fierce as that between airlines fighting for customers.
The recent boom in aviation is matched in interiors. Industry estimates put the worldwide market at around 1.6 billion dollars in 2007, an annual rise of 18 percent.
Perhaps the toughest battle is over seats, where airlines often base their entire marketing campaigns over an extra couple of inches legroom in economy class, or the luxury they can offer first class passengers.
"It is dog eat dog," said Ben Bettell, business development director with Premium Aircraft Interiors group, whose innovations in first class seating have been used by airlines across the world.
"If an airline does not buy your product, they do not come back the next day, they do not come back for five, six, seven years.
"At the same time, the customer, especially the first class customer is thinking, 'I have paid so much money for this seat, I think it should work by extra-sensory perception'."
Premium unveiled two main products at the recent Asian Aerospace International Expo and Congress; an innovative reversible economy seat and their latest first class offering.
The first class seat, which converts into a fully-flat bed, doubles as a space for a meeting or dinner for two, as the sliding table moves to the centre of its enclosed booth, revealing a spare seat. It even has a small wardrobe.
But it is Preumium's foray into economy seating that was getting most of the attention at the show.
Instead of the conventional row of three seats facing the same way, designers have turned the middle seat to face backwards, meaning that passengers will be sitting almost face-to-face with another passenger in the row in front or behind.
To mitigate any discomfort in facing another passenger as you snooze and drool your way through a long-haul flight, the company installed flaps in the back of the seat to provide a kind of eye-contact blocker.
"It can either give the airline an extra column of seats or they can give their customers an extra three inches of space," Bettell said.
In addition to seats, every aspect of an in-flight experience from toilets to meals is fiercely fought over, both in terms of weight and luxury.
Technology company Thales now provides a 23-inch screen offering broadband services and on-demand entertainment, while OnAir announced at the show they would be supplying two airlines with the technology to use mobile phones on board, although it remains unclear if passengers will welcome this extra connectivity.
Anthony James, editor of Britain-based industry magazine Aircraft Interiors International, says there is intense curiosity about what airlines will unveil next, especially with the new Airbus A380 super jumbo which is due for its maiden commercial voyage later this year.
"Everyone is looking to see what Singapore Airlines will have on board the new A380," he said, adding that the desire for so-called "super first class" products, essentially private cabins, has added another layer of luxury.
But whether Emirates or Cathay Pacific show off a new piece of technology or suite, every decision over the interior is made to maximise profit.
"Fundamentally, the customers (whom) airlines are keen to keep on their aircraft are frequent business fliers. Innovation is important, a sense of one-upmanship for your customers, but above all it is comfort and a good night's sleep," said James.
"They are only going to spend money on a new-fangled product if it is going to make them more money."
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