At this year's Paris Airshow, Airbus provided a tantalising glimpse into the future of flying.
- Future aircraft could be built using a bionic structure that mimics the bone structure of birds. Bone is both light and strong because its porous interior carries tension only where necessary, leaving space elsewhere. The cabin's bionic structure will be coated with a biopolymer membrane, which controls the amount of natural light, humidity and temperature, providing opacity or transparency on command and eliminating the need for windows.
- Touch sensitive panels in the interactive zone will download the passenger profile and guide him or her through a bespoke experience. Intuitive technology will allow passengers to access all flight, destination and environmental information at the wave of a hand.
- With more people travelling and their size, shapes and needs changing, aircraft cabins need to change right alongside them. Morphing seats will adapt to suit passengers' budgets as well as their body. Hand luggage is swallowed at the entrance, before reappearing beside you for easy access.
- Longer and slimmer wings glide through the skies more efficiently, as the flow of air over the wing surface reduces drag and in turn, improves fuel consumption. While the use of intelligent materials such as new lightweight 'smart' materials sense the load they are under, making for a lighter aircraft that draws less fuel and curbs emissions. The fuselage is no longer a simple tube, but is curved and shaped to provide more internal space for various cabin configurations, with better aerodynamics outside to improve flight.
- Materials that change shape and return to their initial form, growing like the leaves of a plant, are a genuine possibility. Morphing materials might be metals or polymers that have a memory, or that are covered with a skin that will instigate a shape change. A memory is created using sensor and activator systems that give materials a certain level of artificial intelligence, allowing them to adapt to the passengers' needs. Materials will also be self-cleaning. Think of the leaves of a lotus plant, which water rolls off in beads, taking contaminants with it. Today, coatings inspired by this are used on the surfaces of cabin bathrooms. In the future they will be found on the fabric of seats and the carpets.
- The cabin electrical system can be compared to the human brain, with a network of intelligence pulsating through the cabin. This network will be absorbed into the structural materials, making the hundreds of kilometres of cables and wires found in today's aircraft a thing of the past.