What does the future of air travel look like, and what problems need to be solved? As suppliers to the commercial aerospace industry, one might wonder how that impacts the work you are designing, machining, and assembling. At RedCabin, the biggest topics in the changing aviation landscape are discussed.
During mid-September in Everett, Washington, the most recent RedCabin aerospace summit was held with about 200 attendees. RedCabin also hosts similar summits for automotive and railway in other parts of the world. Monica Wick founded RedCabin, because she had a passion for bringing together the transportation industry in a cohesive and productive manner. She wanted to facilitate more than business card exchange and networking. RedCabin is an amalgam for “cabin” using Car, Aviation, Business, INteriors, while red denotes confidence and boldness. The event started in 2018 and is held in places like Seattle, Germany, and Abu Dhabi to name a few – next year will be in Dallas, Texas at the American Airlines campus. While the locations vary, the participants for the aircraft summits are similar – customer experience and product managers with major airlines, original equipment manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, designers, engineers, and commercial aerospace suppliers.
Partners and competitors meet in the middle to discuss their biggest problems and challenges – all unified in the plan to improve customer outcomes. Intellectual property is still respected, but big topics are explored.
The RedCabin group wants to solve airport stress at the boarding gate. They want to enable those with disabilities to travel more easily and with more humanity.
They want to resolve “bin anxiety,” so passengers don’t aggressively compete for bin space. They have big ideas, and they have concerns for how to bring them to market in a timely manner.
Lindsey Maxwell, vice president at Teague (primary sponsor for this year’s event), has had 20 years in the business of solving complex design problems. She said, “Airlines have an opportunity to meet people before, during, and after their journey on the plane.”
The conference demonstrates true caring for humanity and their desire to travel the world. Its participants realize the many limitations of public transportation and the aviation industry – how to rapidly move people through time and space – and how to manage the labyrinthine obstacles.
Take Matthew Coder, inflight experience program manager for Alaska Airlines, who attends the conference every few years.
He enjoys seeing the vendors at the conference who are his friends. His motivation in attending is to share ideas and innovate. With this year’s conference, he started with an “open mind” regarding the topics to be discussed. He noted, “Everyone is working in the same space and with the same mindset. Collaboration is the key to innovation; you can’t just sit in a room by yourself and come up with great ideas. It really takes large diverse groups if you really want to innovate the best products.”
Coder said that some things come to market faster than others, but grassroots ideas can take five or six years. “There are things I am working on now that will come to fruition a little faster, but it is nice to look out. Airlines are so focused on today’s operation, so a small group of us can strategize a little bit and get ahead of it, so that we can have a better experience.”
Chris Wood, director of FlyDisabled, was on hand to advocate for better wheelchair access to airlines. He has attended most of the RedCabin sessions. “RedCabin is very different than other conferences; it brings people together with innovation and collaboration. There are no sales; it is a chat over coffee with an idea.” One of the main reasons he attends is to encourage making flying more accessible to those in power wheelchairs. Bernadette Berger, director of innovation with Alaska Airlines stated, “Solving the wheelchair service requests is the number one operational challenge.” Through these conversations, she hopes that better innovations will come through automating more processes. Wood said his adult children are in power wheelchairs, and flying has been unsafe. He wants to see inclusivity for everyone in transportation.
Guy Genney, head of communications with PriestmanGoode, an industrial design agency, was in attendance. “RedCabin is the place where all important conversations in aviation happen.” He said they were both a sponsor and speaker at this year’s event. Their interest was to present topics on accessibility and the future aircraft cabin. They are interested in exploring the next generation of travelers and how that might impact aircraft interiors, including entertainment, seating, communication, and more. “Those born in 2010 have had digital technology throughout their lives, and they will expect it in passenger experience.” He sees the experience as more seamless, from what they use at home to getting on the flight. He said individualization will be “a big part of the journey.”
Looking to the future, Devin Liddell, principal futurist at Teague, was on hand to share his insights, including how data crunching can lead to artificial intelligence applications that may help passengers. He envisions AI maturing into “hyper-efficient” systems (with) airports and aircraft.” But he said that he wants to be aware of anomalies that will restrict the human touch for non-traditional passengers. That’s why he feels that customization of the passenger experience will improve outcomes.
“AI has to anticipate dynamic changes in airports and aircraft. In the ideal use scenario, AI will anticipate our unique needs, ‘I’m using a wheelchair, or I’m partially sighted’ … or my unique needs like ‘I always drink ginger ale on a flight.’” Regarding suppliers, AI will predict how many ginger ales might be needed on each flight for example. “Anticipatory superpowers will be great for a lot of passengers.” Liddell recognizes the current drawbacks of AI, but does feel optimistic for the air transportation industry.
Another idea Liddell shared was regarding how to improve the TSA process. Instead of anticipating and agonizing long lines he suggested that there may be shuttles that complete TSA checks en route from parking direct to the gate, which would cut down on lines. He has further ideas about how the bagging system and check in bags may be reconfigured to ease the process. He said a lot of improvements will be because of AI and the anticipation of passenger needs based upon data tracking.
Finally, Nikki Matheis, Schneller LLC, is a designer for aircraft interiors in a decorative laminates company. She said that passenger satisfaction is mission critical for them, “where they feel comfortable, at home and relaxed wherever they are traveling — you want to make sure your passenger is comfortable and at home.” They aim to create personalized environments. She cited the anxiety at the airport and how to improve that situation “Onboarding, bigger bins, getting into your seat and having what you need. Using AI to understand your check in and carry-on baggage and communicating with you sooner. If you can get it more systematic and better communicate with people, you can reduce anxiety and improve the experience.”
Monica Wick, RedCabin founder, remarked that she was very pleased with this year’s event. “I am happy they attended the working groups. The mixture of new topics — looking into the future with new technologies, AI and eVTOLS — they appreciate that we don’t repeat ourselves. The accessibility topic was important, and people enjoy the quality of the speakers and the networking.” She echoed that the event breeds a familiar camaraderie and noted that there were many new people this year. “The aviation interior industry is extremely friendly. It is a big industry but is somehow small when you compare it to automotive. Industry to industry, it is very different. Aviation is a global industry where you travel around the world – (it is an) open-minded audience.”