Aircraft lighting has been a crucial factor of the overall passenger experience but often overlooked as the other interior components such as seating, inflight entertainment, or connectivity, take precedence. With the age of more-electric aircraft steadily moving towards all-electric configurations, lighting components suppliers have been innovating towards maintaining the delicate balance of product cost-effectiveness, aesthetics, and energy economy. Cabin illumination contributes significantly to the comfort of the passengers onboard, particularly on long-haul, transcontinental flights. Consistently, the technology developers conduct regular tests on the impact of light on human beings, the result of which feeds into the product design engineering nomenclature.
The aircraft lighting market has been fragmented and various suppliers have identified innovation sweet spots to excel as a technology developer. The following trends reflect the seismic hotspots of technology innovations and the associated market participants.
‘Logotype’ mood lighting evolving as airline brand statement:
With the emergence of mood lighting i.e. color changing light to provide a more immersive passenger experience by aligning the illumination to certain conditions, carriers have been utilizing this as an avenue of the brand proposition. Innovative concepts such as fabricating artificial daylight from sunset to sunrise, dinner atmosphere, a cloudy or star-studded sky with cutting-edge simulation. This kind of interior lighting has been evolving as a symbolic tower of the brand proposition that screams the airline name with features such as designated color combinations typically used by the operator.
Fluidizing design differentia to enhance retrofit viabilities:
Germany-based Diehl Aerospace has gone a step further with respect to mood lighting with its flex-illumination and flat-surface-illumination technology, under its Human-Centric Lighting (HCL) portfolio, which fluidizes the design possibilities. US-based Collins Aerospace has ramped up the retrofit attribute with lighting systems, which can be installed within the existing fluorescent fixture mounting facades with specially designed Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lighting lenses seamlessly integrating into the existing sidewalls. The company’s Tapestry LED-based mood lighting system fits into the traditional fluorescent cabin lighting frames, replacing it with high Color Rendering Index (CRI) color points which can be adjusted to maximize crew and passenger comfort with respect to consistency and intensity. Consistently, Germany-based Luminator Aerospace has strategically diversified its product line to enhance the retrofit characteristics. While it has introduced a substitute for traditional fluorescent tubes with bi-colour and tri colour alternatives that can be installed in the existing aircraft structure, interior components, control interface and system wiring; it has also launched its Full Mood Lighting (RGBW) offering for more intense requirements. The systems promise enhanced modularity with the option of downloading the lighting tables as per the scene and color configurations specified by the customer airline. Also, with reduced size LED strip alternatives to fluorescent tubes, single-aisle jetliners as well as business jets can accommodate larger overhead bins.
Leveraging HCL to abate jet lag:
Germany-based Jetlite has directed its efforts to unlock the visual, biological and emotional benefits of light that ameliorate the passenger health, particularly in adapting the biological cycles of passengers to the destination time zone reducing the jet lag effects. Controlled consolatory light for relaxation, cooler light as a stimulant for active phases enable minimal deflection for the involuntary, biorhythmic functions. In the heart of this stress-alleviating technology lies the Jetlite controller, which, integrated with the existing cabin management system, moderates the cabin lighting automatically in line with HCL standards. Apart from the passengers, the technology promises diminution of the stress of flight attendants due to increasing workloads across time zones and associated lack of rest, effectually improving their performance.
Impregnating existing artifacts with luminous elements for customized visuals:
UK’s AIM Altitude has integrated its lighting solutions in the buyer-furnished equipment thus, creating more modular propositions for interior illumination. While this concept of moving away from separate lighting products to a more modulated design of ‘illuminating’ the existing interior artifacts addresses challenges associated with space restrains, the innovation also avoids installation challenges due to complex shapes. The innovation has witnessed an encouraging response in the middle east, the Emirates-operated Boeing 777 Ghaf Tree feature panel being an example. These features have been utilized by the airlines to intensate brand awareness such as fortifying the 3D appearance of the Arabic design with proper lighting, executed for Oman Air. AIM Altitude has also implemented the feature of displaying various scenes for different flight segments for Virgin Atlantic’s Airbus A350 Social Zone, making the passengers pensively aware of the local sights at the destination.
Sharpening control with LED lighting:
Germany-based Schott, another optics specialist which has been in the forefront of innovation with respect to lightings and its effects on the passenger biorhythm, focuses on replicating natural light and uses a spectrum of over 16 million colors as well as eliminating color effects’ of ageing of LEDs. A unique combination of the optical light converter and an LED sensor assimilates the output of every LED, effectually removing possibilities of color drifts (light dots). The challenge of ageing LEDs impacting the overall homogeneity of the light performance was tackled by Schott with its HelioJet technology. The technology leverages four LED colors (red, green, blue, white) integrated into an optical light converter, which uses fiber optic principles. The set-up is supported by sensor management which controls the LEDs and provides a homogeneous light output over the life of the LEDs. The Heliojet has experienced a growing customer base over the years, starting with Scandinavian SAS in partnership with German MRO specialist Lufthansa Technik in 2015.
Implementing microLED for weight and longevity advantages:
With LEDs being installed for cabin lighting requirements for quite a few years now, the market stakeholders, specifically technology developers have been working towards bringing in more active and granular control with LEDs, without convoluting the installed electrical circuit. Enter microLED technologies – Collins Aerospace has been the first aerospace company to venture into the application of microLED technology to the cabin in the form of reading light. The company has been exploring possibilities with microLEDs and its installation in panelized lighting on flat and curved surfaces, as well as with video capabilities through embedded systems. Apart from better control, microLEDs also provide improved longevity and lightweight advantages.
Improving passenger health conditions:
Few companies, such as Luminator have been working towards enhancing cabin health and safety with antibacterial lighting. The lighting would neutralize harmful bacteria such as MRSA, E. coli, and salmonella, as well as yeasts and fungi. The differentiating factor is brought in by avoiding the use of UV light that may deteriorate the plastic or interior components through extended exposure. US-based start-up Vital Vio has been one of the first movers in this market. After a successful penetration of the hospitals, gyms, household and hotel industries, the company has been working with Delta Air Lines (through Delta’s innovation group, The Hangar) to implement its antimicrobial LED lighting technology onboard airplanes. Furthermore, the collaboration creates opportunities for Vital Vio to extend the application of its technology to airports and lounges.
Enabling feedback product development workflows:
Stakeholders have established dedicated centers of excellence (CoEs) and CX labs which replicates the aircraft cabin environment, enabling the customers to readily experience the cabin illumination. Diehl’s LVC (Light Verification Center), for instance, conducts lighting tests with relevant optical instruments (spectrometer, goniometer and sphere etc.). The test results, along with the passenger experience data and the operator requirements, feed into the new developments of cabin illumination in a closed-loop development model. Similarly, Collins Aerospace provides a fully simulated environment for the airline customers to experiment with the system, such as customize a cabin with their brand embossed on the seats and other monuments while Collins’ consultative approach helps define the appropriate color points for each phase of flight.
Market participants have been keeping their nose to the grindstone for bringing in the effective convergence of optics research around human-centric lighting and the human chronobiology (around such as melatonin and cortisol levels, heart rate variability, motion data etc.). Companies like Jetlite have developed proprietary algorithms, which expedites productization of these research learnings. Impacts of jetlag on the inner clock can be reduced by controlling the aircraft’s cabin lighting to provide more relaxation and activation-focused environment, considering parameters such as routes, directions and time zones. This contributes to the overall passenger experience and has the potential to pull an airline up the preference list of a frequent flier.
From an industrial standpoint, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered ripples of uncertainty across the layers of the aviation ecosystem, initiating tectonic shifts in the entire value chain. The new aircraft demand existing so far can be expected to be sidestepped by the exponential growth of the refurbishment market, demanding a change in the ingrained strategy of the supplier network, including the lighting suppliers and technology developers. The suppliers should thus, articulate a strategy for the retrofit market, bifurcated from the conventional linefit market, for driving the next generation lighting products business. The growing market reflects significant opportunities for design firms and presents a landscape of possibilities for unleashing newer concepts like design thinking. The design excellence, once infused with an appropriate cobweb of in-house process and product best practices, would overcome the roadblock of convergence between design and product deployment, which has been historically encountered by most product manufacturers across industries.
Overall, the airline industry has been traditionally driven by passenger experience and expected to be more so, in the post-COVID era. With a range of restrictions in place while flying, as well as during the time spent at the airport, the horizon of passenger experience has increased a few fold and the airlines should triangulate specific areas of focus and develop a collaborative blueprint to address the requirements and gain market share.
- Aviation Business News: Cabin lighting: Making light work of passenger comfort by Bernie Baldwin, accessible at https://www.aviationbusinessnews.com/cabin/cabin-lighting-passenger-comfort/, accessed 30 June 2020
- Runway Girl Network: Making the case for aircraft cabin lighting harmonization by Mary Kirby, https://runwaygirlnetwork.com/2019/06/15/making-the-case-for-aircraft-cabin-lighting-harmonization/
- Diehl Aviation: Cabin Lighting, accessible at https://www.diehl.com/aviation/en/portfolio/cabin-lighting/, accessed 30 June 2020
- Collins Aerospace: Lighting, accessible at https://www.collinsaerospace.com/en/what-we-do/Business-Aviation/Cabin/Lighting, accessed 1 July 2020
Photos credit: unsplash.com by Note Thanun
The author is a Lead Analyst with Information Services Group (ISG) and comes with 10 years of experience in market research and consulting. He has executed several strategy consulting assignments for both public and private sector clients in APAC, Middle East and Europe in verticals like aerospace and defence, automotive and energy. Presently, most of his engagements revolve around outsourced engineering services.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or any other group or individual.