How airplane interiors are designed

  • Designing the inside of an airplane isn’t easy.
  • It took 20 different teams at Delta and three and a half years to finish the redesign of the 777 fleet.
  • Before they could debut new cabins, a bin-lift assist, and wireless seat-back TVs, Delta’s team faced weight limits, limited space, and safety regulations.
  • Business Insider got a behind-the-scenes look on board a 777 with the product manager and engineer who helped take the new design airborne.
  • This footage was filmed on February 27, 2020.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcription of the video.

Ashley Garris: What makes our job very challenging is it’s a game of inches. It’s fighting for every little bit of space.

Narrator: Airplane interiors are a battleground among airlines. Who can make 15 hours straight in the air most comfortable, even if you’re stuck in economy? But comfort isn’t the easiest to come by flying in a metal tube 40,000 feet in the sky.

Alice Belcher: There are challenges because you’re in a very small space with a lot of people.

Narrator: We went on board Delta’s redesigned Boeing 777 with the people whose job it is to make flying suck a little less.

Delta announced the redesign of its entire 777 fleet back in 2018. And the airline finished updating the 18 planes in Singapore in early 2020. All four cabins underwent upgrades.

Belcher: When that 777 comes in, it has a very old interior, so they rip it all out and they install everything new. There is thousands of hours of engineering that has to be done to install all that equipment and develop the interface diagrams, develop the certification documentation.

Narrator: While Delta has announced it will retire the Boeing 777 fleet, its facelift can still give us a look into how designers maximize limited space on a plane.

This is Ashley. Ashley identifies what frustrates customers on board and comes up with possible solutions.

Garris: So, in product development, we have thought about every single inch of this aircraft, from the business-class cabin to the size of the closets to the size of the lavatories.

Narrator: Then engineers like Alice figure out how to bring those ideas to life from this fancy lab in Atlanta.

Belcher: What we’re trying to do is figure out, can we take that technologies, and is it ready to be on an airplane with 281 passengers at 30,000 feet flying 400 miles an hour? And then if it is, what we do is we wanna execute it as flawlessly as we possibly can.

Narrator: So, what changes did designers make? We’ll start with business class.

Garris: This whole seat has memory-foam cushioning in it. It’s designed to be like a mattress, basically. For us, it’s all about picking very careful, sustainable, nonflammable materials, but also making sure they’re comfortable as well. We also have all of our controls for the seat here.

What we really work on is also building spatial mock-ups to really determine that every passenger of all sizes is comfortable in this space here. And if not, then we’ll work to adjust. Can we adjust the console size to make it smaller or bigger and give more room here? Every suite also has a fully enclosed door. And if you’re in the center seats, then you also have a privacy divider between the two seats.

Every seat has a leg rest, footrest, got a remote control, got my nice 13.3-inch high-definition IFE screen.

Narrator: That in-flight-entertainment system is wireless, the first of its kind in the industry. It was developed in that fancy lab.

Belcher: This is our IFE lab. What we’ve done with wireless seat-back IFE, we eliminate the ethernet cable, and by eliminating all those cables that are running all over the airplane, we save about a pound per seat. That’s about 281 pounds per aircraft. Basically equates to 1,330 metric tons of carbon-emission savings per year.

Narrator: Alice partnered with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to create a software system in the IFE that could easily be updated with new technology.

Belcher: We can’t set a whole airplane fleet down every two years and redo it all, so we have to think very innovatively. It also has to last a long time. These displays on an A220, that thing flies eight to 12 hours a day, maybe more. It could possibly be on almost that whole time. We worry a lot about reliability as well.

Narrator: Back in Premium Select, beyond the TV, there’s also plugs and USB ports, and a couple other tricks to designing within this small space.

Garris: So, every seat also has a very large tray table. These seats are so far apart that to put a tray table here, I mean, you would really be reaching. So we put the tray table in the arm. The back of the seat’s also grooved out to still give you those extra inches there in your knee space.

This is Delta’s Comfort Plus cabin. We do want to create that open, airy cabin. Part of that also is just the way that the bins are designed, right? So, they’re still high enough up that you have lots of space and headroom. But they’re big enough to be functional, to hold all of our passengers’ bags they’re bringing on board.

All of our passengers usually really care about storage. Probably fits maybe six roller boards. But if I put six roller boards in here, I’m not gonna be able to close it.

Belcher: Delta came to us and said, “Hey, we have this problem. We spend a lot of money on back injuries to flight attendants. Can you guys think of some way to fix it?” And so we were given the challenge to say is there a easier, better way to be able to push up these bins? We partnered with a supplier in Germany to come up with this electromechanical device.

Garris: The bin lift assist will actually click on when this weight reaches 45 pounds, and it will make the close force like I’m closing a bin with only 35 pounds inside.

Narrator: Engineers also had to make the bins durable.

Garris: These bins are probably used, you know, 500 times a year by all our passengers, so that means, just, they take a beating. We have to really be careful about the materials that we put on board to make sure that they’re reliable and robust and not breaking.

This is really where we spend the most time. I think the hardest part of an economy seat is the inches. So, the industry standard on a 777 aircraft is actually to put 10 seats wide. Instead of squeezing in a tenth seat in each row, we maintain nine. Everyone hates getting that middle seat on a long-haul flight, so instead of having two middle seats here in the center, we only have one.

It’s also about giving passengers things to do at their seats while they’re on such a long flight. In the event that the passenger in front of me wants to sleep and they recline their seat, then my screen here tilts so that I can get a better viewing angle regardless of what the passenger in front of me is doing.

Narrator: But the design details extend beyond just the seats and into the whole plane. They added more space in front of the lavatories for people to line up.

Garris: Making sure the aisles are wide enough so that customers can easily get their bags up and down. Flight attendants can also easily push the carts up and down.

Narrator: They also tweaked the lighting system.

Garris: Our full-spectrum LED lighting has seven different lighting scenarios. So, for your meal setting, you’re gonna have a nice, warm orange-red color that is supposed to stimulate hunger. We also have a sunset setting, which is a couple minutes of transition, which actually replicates a sunset on board, and then it takes you to night mode.

As a designer, I’ve sat in these seats, I’ve flown all over the world. I wanna know what the experience is like, and I want to know the customer pain points, mainly because I’ve experienced them, but it’s also my job to try to ease those pain points.

Narrator: But making any changes to a fleet, big or small, takes years.

Garris: We haven’t even talked about certification yet. Every single seat that you sit in has been thoroughly tested to withstand an accident, if that were to ever happen. Every single piece on here is built with all of those certifications and testing before it ever goes on board.

Narrator: Ashley said the 777 redesign took 3 1/2 years.

Garris: And I would say at least 20 different teams at Delta all working together.

Belcher: We came and we tested it. We had some flight attendants come in and try it out. We did the certification and the installation and all the engineering so we could put it on the airplane, make sure it was safe, and flew it away.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2020.

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An expert explains what would’ve happened if United flight 328 experienced its scary engine failure over the ocean

United Airlines Boeing 777
A United Airlines Boeing 777.

  • United Airlines flight 328 landed safely after experiencing an engine failure over Denver over the weekend.
  • Even if the engine failure had occurred over water while en route to Hawaii, the aircraft likely could have landed safely. 
  • Wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 777 are rated to fly for more than five hours on a single engine.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A United Airlines flight from Denver to Honolulu successfully executed a safe emergency landing on Saturday after suffering an fiery engine failure shortly after takeoff.

Though debris spewed across Denver suburbs, the aircraft was able to quickly turn around and land back at Denver International Airport with no injuries or lives lost.

The entire ordeal lasted less than 30 minutes since the failure occurred just miles from a major international airport. But as this aircraft was heading to Hawaii, there was a possibility that the aircraft could have lost its engine while flying high over the Pacific Ocean – with the nearest airport potentially hundreds of miles away. 

It’s a scenario that regulators have feared since the beginning of the jet age. The guiding theory was that having more engines on a plane would help airliners make it to the nearest airport in the event of a failure. Three and four-engine planes like the Boeing 747, Douglas DC-8, and Lockheed L-1011, among numerous others, ruled oceanic skies for exactly that reason.

Regulators eventually created Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards, or ETOPS, where twin-engine aircraft could cross oceans. Aircraft only had to stay within a certain flight time from the nearest suitable airport in case an emergency landing was required. 

The Boeing 777-200, the plane in question in the incident over the weekend, can fly over five hours with just one engine thanks to its 330-minute ETOPS certification. That’s around the flight time from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

When flying over the Atlantic between North America and Europe, diversion airports along the way typically include Keflavik Airport in Iceland, Gander International Airport in Canada, and Narsarsuaq Airport in Greenland. But flights to Hawaii from the mainland US often have no intermediate airports along the route, leaving pilots with two options: return to the mainland or continue to Hawaii. 

“The decisions that the crew would have to make would be based on the location of the aircraft,” Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel research company Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider. “Has it reached the halfway point between the mainland and Hawaii? If it had not, chances are it would return back to the mainland and land at the closest available airport that could accommodate the 777.”

Overwater flights are dispatched with ETOPS requirements in mind to ensure that a diversion airport is always within reach, assuming that the engine failure or shut down doesn’t lead to other problems with the aircraft.

San Francisco International, Los Angeles International, and San Diego International, to name just a few, are possible diversion airports if the aircraft have to return to the mainland. But if past the halfway point, pilots might decide to press forward to Hawaii and may even determine they can land at the intended destination airport.

An aircraft flying from Denver to Honolulu, for example, wouldn’t operate unless that aircraft could fly to a diversion airport with one engine at any stage of the flight, whether over Colorado suburbs or the mid-point between the mainland and Hawaii. 

A new generation of aircraft based on ETOPS

Fears of an overwater engine failure on a twin-engine jet hindered the development of the segment for decades. True innovations with two-engine aircraft only came about once aviation regulators introduced ETOPS in the 1980s and manufacturers started to build larger twin-engine jets like the Boeing 777, Airbus A350 XWB, and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Those aircraft are now replacing the costlier quad-engine aircraft like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380, with new types like the Boeing 777X currently in development. Twin-engine aircraft now operate the longest flights in the world, including the latest New York City-Singapore route that’s operated by an Airbus A350-900ULR

And it’s not only twin-engine wide-body aircraft that can use ETOPS as smaller aircraft like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families can get the certification. Flights from the mainland US to Hawaii are frequently operated by narrow-body aircraft and some airlines use them to fly between North America and Europe under ETOPS rules

“The certification for these planes to operate over water has been rigorous, and it’s been going on since 1985,” Harteveldt said.

Harteveldt was working for Trans World Airlines, commonly known as TWA, when the Boeing 767 received ETOPS certification that allowed it to fly as far as 60 minutes from the nearest alternate airport. Those limits were gradually increased, allowing airlines to fly more direct routes instead of focusing on staying close to land. 

United’s experience with flying over water with one engine

An overwater engine shut down isn’t within precedent as a United Airlines Boeing 777-200 flying from Auckland, New Zealand to Los Angeles in 2003 was forced to shut down one engine while over the Pacific and divert to land, according to FlightGlobal. The nearest airport in Kona, Hawaii ended up being over three hours away, technically over the 180-minute requirement for the 777 at the time. Still, the aircraft was able to land safely after around 190 minutes from the engine shutdown.

Another United Boeing 777 flight from San Francisco to Honolulu in February 2018 was forced to shut down an engine after an issue with the Pratt & Whitney PW4000-112 engine, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report, and managed to make it to the destination airport on one engine. 

Harteveldt noted, however, that the loss of the engine nacelle, or the covering that houses the engine, on flight 328 may have adversely impacted the aircraft’s range and limited the diversion airports available for landing.  It was also revealed that a piece of the engine did in fact puncture the fuselage and may have contributed to an even greater loss of aerodynamics that may have reduced its range, even more, according to Harteveldt. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

United will still fly the Boeing 777-200 after a scary engine failure in Colorado – but the ones still flying have a different engine

United Airlines 777
A United Airlines Boeing 777.

  • United Airlines’ fleet of 24 Boeing 777-200 aircraft has been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration, but the aircraft will keep flying.
  • A fleet of 22 United Boeing 777-200s are unaffected as they’re powered by General Electric engines.
  • Passengers booked on the 777 might still fly on the aircraft but others will be moved to different jets. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The Federal Aviation Administration has effectively grounded United Airlines’ fleet of 24 Boeing 777-200 aircraft powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW4000-112 engine that failed on Saturday during a flight from Denver to Honolulu. 

An airline spokesperson told Insider that the extent of the grounding remains to be seen as the agency has not yet issued an airworthiness directive, or AD, outlining the inspections that the airline needs to perform before the engine can return to the skies. 

Flyers that still see “Boeing 777-200” for their United flights in the next few days, however, need not be concerned as their flight will be operated by a different type of 777 aircraft, one powered by General Electric engines. This grounding only affects the 777s powered by Pratt & Whitney engines and not the entire 777 fleet, which experts say has a track record of safety.

United has 22 General Electric-powered 777-200s currently flying that will serve destinations like Tokyo, Japan; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Milan, Italy; and Kahului, Hawaii, among others. The Pratt & Whitney engines were initially purchased by United to power its Boeing 777s but the airline acquired General Electric-powered 777s after a merger with Continental Airlines.

It’s common that airlines acquire new aircraft with different engine types in a merger, but airlines typically stick to one type of engine per plane. 

“Airlines like commonality, it leads to simplification,” Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel research company Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.

United’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, similarly powered by General Electric engines, will also remain in the skies. The variant is the largest of the 777 family currently in commercial service and also flying for the likes of American Airlines, British Airways, and Qatar Airways.  

Flyers might also see their aircraft changed as their departure date moves closer as United deals with the short-term impacts of the grounding on its schedule. United’s wide-body fleet includes newer jets like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner family, in addition to the 777-300ER. 

The FAA will likely release its airworthiness directive this week, and that’s when the extent of the grounding will be known. United may be forced to restore aircraft from storage if the grounding is protracted but the airline said it hasn’t needed to cancel any trips due to the incident; though, some delays have been incurred as replacement aircraft move around the airline’s network. 

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Experts say the plane and engine used by United have a safe track record – and the scary landing in Colorado should have minimal impact on the airline

United Airlines Boeing 777-222
The United Airlines Boeing 777-222 that experienced an in-flight engine failure.

  • A United Airlines jet made an emergency landing after an engine failure on Saturday.
  • Three aviation regulators have effectively grounded Boeing 777s with PW4000-112 engines pending an investigation. 
  • Experts say the issue isn’t likely systemic with the plane or engine, given the track record of both. 
  • Only 69 aircraft in the world are affected, and United is the only US carrier with the model. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Regulators in the US, UK, and Japan have moved to effectively ground Boeing 777 aircraft powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW4000-112 engine pending an investigation into the United Airlines flight that made an emergency landing shortly after takeoff over the weekend. 

Flight 328 from Denver, Colorado to Honolulu safely returned to the airport after an uncontained engine failure occurred shortly after takeoff. The incident resulted in debris falling to the ground in Denver suburbs, but caused no death or injury to passengers or bystanders as the engine failure did not affect other critical aspects of the aircraft. 

The grounding affects 69 aircraft currently flying for carriers including United, All Nippon Airways, and Japan Airlines, and is supported by Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer. Impact to United, the only US carrier affecting by the grounding, should be minimal, experts told Insider. 

“We’re very lucky that the fan blades didn’t shatter the cabin, they didn’t puncture the wing, they didn’t puncture a fuel tank,” Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel research company Atmosphere Research Group, said in an interview. “As accidents go, this was as good as you can hope in that there was no injury, no death, and the airplane returned safely to the ground.” 

The incident mirrored a similar issue with the same airline, aircraft, and engine, per Aviation Safety Network data, as a 2018 United flight from San Francisco to Honolulu similarly experienced an engine issue and was able to land safely with no injuries or loss of life. But experts don’t believe that there’s a systemic problem with the engine or the aircraft itself, noting the track record of safety for both.

“This was the launch engine for the plane back a quarter-century ago,” Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, told Insider, as the Boeing 777 has been in commercial service since 1995. If there was an inherent problem with this specific combination of engine and airframe, Aboulafia says we would’ve known about it already.

The first fatal Boeing 737 Max crash, for example, occurred just over one year into its commercial life. The Boeing 777, on the other hand, has over 25 years of service under its belt with no hint of such troubles. The full investigation will reveal whether the incident was an unforeseen problem with the engine or the aircraft, or whether it was a mechanical issue on United’s end. 

What experts don’t agree on, however, is why that particular engine and airframe combination was grounded by regulators around the world. Harteveldt told Insider that the grounding and inspection requirements set by the Federal Aviation Administration and others may be due to the heightened safety environment that exists in aviation following the 737 Max grounding of March 2019. 

“I think the FAA wants to err very much on the side of caution in the wake of what happened with the 737 Max to understand what this problem is,” Harteveldt said.

The FAA was criticized in the wake of the 737 Max crashes for a lack of oversight and was one of the last regulators to ground the now-notorious aircraft. Now, the agency is taking an “extremely cautious” approach to this incident, according to Harteveldt.

“This is definitely an extraordinary step that’s being taken, but it’s being taken out of intelligent prudence,” Harteveldt said. “What United, the FAA, and Pratt & Whitney want to do is understand what caused these fan blades to come apart.”

Aboulafia called the move “par for the course” as there are so few Boeing 777 aircraft with this type of engine currently flying. 

“This is what you would do given this incident,” Aboulafia said.

What happens to United

It remains to be seen how long the grounding will last and how long it will take the airline to perform the required inspections, which will determine the overall impact.. 

In the interim, flights that were scheduled to be flown by the Pratt & Whitney-powered Boeing 777s in the next few days will be swapped for other aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Boeing 777-300ER, depending on factors like passenger demand, and distance for a particular route. 

“The grounding of these 24 planes to United will definitely affect the airline’s operation,” Harteveldt said. “But if there is a time for something like this to happen, it is now, when United is operating far fewer flights than it normally does because of COVID.”

This type of aircraft typically spends its life flying overseas routes, but the pandemic has grounded most of those flights. That takes some of pressure off United since the aircraft aren’t needed as much as they would be if air travel were at 2019 levels. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be more than an operational headache,” Aboulafia said. 

United’s analysts are likely troubleshooting the mid to long-term effects of the grounding, according to Harteveldt, and how it will affect operations as the airline heads into the spring and summer season. 

Cargo is also an important factor that will determine United’s next move as airlines have been relying on freight revenues to make up for the loss of passengers. The loss of 24 Boeing 777-200s, as one of the airline’s largest aircraft, will reduce United’s cargo-carrying ability in the short-term. 

The Chicago-based airline, however, still has a fleet of active Boeing 777-200 aircraft currently flying passengers and cargo, the difference is that they’re equipped with General Electric engines and not the PW4000-112 used on Saturday’s aircraft. Airlines typically choose one engine to fly a particular fleet but United acquired the General Electric-powered aircraft as a result of a merger with Continental Airlines. 

United also may consider pulling planes out of storage if the grounding lasts more than a few weeks. The airline has 28 Boeing 777s currently sitting in storage that could be brought back up to the majors; though, it might take around one to two weeks per plane to get them back into flying condition. 

Regardless of the path United takes, Aboulafia says the grounding should have “zero impact whatsoever” on the airline’s overall recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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FAA orders inspections on Boeing 777 airplanes after one experienced engine failure and dropped debris over Colorado

United Airlines Boeing 777-222
United Airlines Boeing 777-222 takes off at Los Angeles international Airport on September 15, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

  • A Boeing 777 operated by United Airlines experienced engine failure Saturday, dropping debris over Colorado.
  • The FAA is now requiring inspections of all Boeing 777 jets with a particular engine model.
  • United also announced they would be grounding 24 active aircraft as they conduct a review.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said Sunday he was requiring “immediate or stepped up inspections” of all Boeing 777 airplanes equipped with a particular engine model just a day after one experienced engine failure and dropped debris over Colorado.

“We reviewed all available safety data following yesterday’s incident. Based on the initial information, we concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement.

The engine in question is a Pratt & Whitney PW4000 model, which the statement said are only used on Boeing 777 airplanes.

United Airlines, the operator of the plane that experienced engine failure, also announced it would temporarily ground all 24 of its active Boeing 777 planes with that engine model.

In a statement provided to Insider, United said it would work with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board “to determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service.”

The statement said that United has 52 of these planes, 24 active and 28 in storage, and that the move to ground them should temporarily impact only a small number of customers.

United flight 328 from Denver to Honolulu, Hawaii was carrying 231 passengers and 10 crew members when it experienced engine failure Saturday shortly after taking off. The Boeing 777 aircraft began shedding debris, some of which landed in residential neighborhoods.

One photo shows a large piece of debris that narrowly missed someone’s home. A video taken by a passenger on the plane showed one engine on fire while the plane was in flight.

The plane returned to Denver International Airport and landed safely, with no injuries reported from anyone on board or as a result of the falling debris.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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