Private airline suites have captured the imagination of the flying public and are a big hit with well-heeled air travelers and elite frequent flyers alike, but engineers have strict regulations and more than a few challenging safety concerns to overcome when adding full-sized doors between passengers and the limited number of emergency exits available in the event of a crisis.
Lately, it seems almost as if airlines can’t install private premium-class suites fast enough to keep up with demand. For many frequent flyers, a journey in Singapore Airlines First Class Suite is an early entry on the bucket list. Likewise, slightly less luxurious options such as Delta One Suites and Qatar Airways QSuites have been greeted with mostly rave reviews.
The popularity (and perhaps, more importantly, the revenue generating ability) of private and semi-private aircraft cabin quarters begs the obvious question of why there aren’t more of these coveted options available. A fascinating new report by Runway Girl Network’s John Walton makes clear that adding even a mini-suite with a closable door to a commercial aircraft cabins requires clearing a surprising number of engineering and regulatory hurdles.
“The rules intend to ensure that current evacuation is not degraded due to the presence of the door,” Collins Aerospace VP Alastair Hamilton told the travel site. “Compliance to these rules is typically shown using a combination of analysis and naïve subject testing. This typically includes scenarios where the main door mechanism has failed and a secondary emergency path is utilized. The doored suite requirements are in-addition-to, and not a-replacement-of the standard egress requirements.”
Hamilton’s design team was behind the groundbreaking Oasis First Class Suite. He noted that the addition of new doors to an aircraft cabin (including those installed for privacy) means those new doors must be capable of being locked in the open position for takeoff and landing. The doors also have to be simple enough that a layman can easily open even a malfunctioning door in a crisis.
Because cabin doors are generally prohibited by the current rules, engineers are in the unique position of having to seek exemptions for every new seating and suit design which includes a door. The process can involve building a number of full-scale prototypes for testing in live simulations. As private suites and mini-suites grow in popularity, industry leaders predict a more formalized approval process will make the journey from drawing board to aircraft more efficient and less expensive.
“The market has been pushing for a long time for private business class suites,” Safran Seats Design Lead Arthur Glain told Walton. “We are happy that the specification has been clarified in regards to doors and that we can develop solutions that will comply with these rules. I would say the key challenges are the commonality with the non-doored solution. You don’t want to have to re-design your seat if an airline wants it with a door. Cost, weight and living space are also challenges but there are ways to reduce the impact of an additional door on the overall product, the flexible door is a very good way to mitigate these drawbacks.”
In addition to a litany of rules about how onboard privacy doors are engineered, airlines also face operational obstacles and restrictions on exactly how and when cabin doors are used. Walton points out that, like Singapore First Class Seats and Delta One Suites, the Qatar Airways QSuites require their very own privacy door-specific safety cards.
[Soure: Qatar Airways]