By Francesca Street, CNN
Hamburg, Germany (CNN) — Air New Zealand’s Skynest, the upcoming reimagined economy-class seating which promises bunk beds in the skies, has already attracted a lot of buzz and excitement among sleep-starved long-haul passengers.
Now the concept’s got the industry seal of approval via a prestigious Crystal Cabin Award, presented at the 2022 Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany.
Skynest won the cabin concepts award at this year’s ceremony, which celebrates innovation in airplane cabin interiors. Speaking to CNN Travel at AIX, Lukas Kaestner, president of the Crystal Cabin Award Association, said Air New Zealand’s win was notable because this category often rewards ideas that are exciting, but nowhere near becoming a reality.
Skynest isn’t just a futuristic, maybe-one-day concept – it’s an airline-produced product that’s set to hit the skies in 2024.
“Bunk-bed solution for economy class – this is something which you regularly see as a concept,” said Kaestner. “But we rarely see this level of innovation actually becoming a real product that’s flying.”
The Crystal Cabin Awards announced its longlist earlier this year, before whittling the categories down to a shortlist. Finalists presented their ideas at AIX earlier this week – with the team of expert judges then picking their favorites.
Other winners include Collins Aerospace’s InteliSence concept in the Passenger Comfort category. InteliSence uses artificial intelligence and data gathered from on-board cameras and sensors to track passengers’ travel experiences. Collins said in a statement that the goal is to help “airlines optimize power consumption, on-board provisions and crew workloads,” as well as give passengers a more personalized on-board experience.
In the university category, a student team from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands won for its Lightweight Aircraft Seating concept – a lightweight seat cushion designed to use minimal material while still ensuring passenger comfort.
Meanwhile in the Sustainable Cabin category, Lantal Textiles’ Deep Dyed Carpet was awarded for its ability to potentially reduce airplane CO2 emissions via a more eco-friendly, lightweight cabin carpet.
Kaestner said it’s heartening to see more sustainable innovations in aviation, and suggests the industry is starting to reckon with its environmental impact – although acknowledged there’s still a long way to go.
“We have not been that good yet, as an industry,” he said.
The Crystal Cabin Awards are announced annually, and Kaestner and his team enjoy keeping tabs on former nominees and winners in the years following their win.
Winning entries often have a domino effect on the aviation industry, said Kaestner, who pointed to Delta’s 2017 win for its Delta One business class suite with an ultra-private sliding door.
“After that the majority of business-class cabins on long-haul started having these sliding doors,” he said.
While airlines operating shorter flights might have less need for the kind of seating solution offered by Air New Zealand’s Skynest, Kaestner suggested they’ll still be watching closely to see how Skynest performs.
“It will be really interesting also from a business perspective to see if it works out,” he said.
For student nominees, the Crystal Cabin Awards are “a fantastic way to get into the industry,” added Kaestner.
Some, such as Alejandro Núñez Vicente, nominated in 2021 for his double-decker airplane seat, have gone on to found their own start-ups.
Winners, Crystal Cabin Awards 2023:
Winner Cabin Concepts: Air New Zealand “Skynest”
Winner Cabin Systems, Materials and Components: Thales Avionics “Onboard Data Center”
Winner Health & Safety: Teledyne Controls “ACES”
Winner Passenger Comfort: Collins Aerospace “InteliSence”
Winner IFEC and Digital Services: AirFi, coop. Iridium “LEO Connectivity Solution”
Winner Sustainable Cabin: Lantal Textiles “Deep Dyed Carpet”
Winner University: Technical University of Delft “Lightweight Aircraft Seating”
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