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Industry showdown at the Crystal Cabin Award

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The 21 finalists for the Crystal Cabin Award 2015 are now in place, and the award ceremony in Hamburg on 14 April promises to be exciting.

The list of 21 finalists for the Crystal Cabin Award, the "Oscar" of aircraft interiors industry, has seldom been as exciting as it is in 2015, its 9th year. In a number of the seven categories this year, the big-name heavyweights are fighting it out for the internationally coveted prize. In the "Premium Class & VIP" category, the A380 cabins from Etihad and Qatar Airways are battling it out head-to-head, and two aircraft manufacturers - Boeing and Embraer - are amongst the top three in the "Industrial Design & Visionary Concepts" category. The "Passenger Comfort Systems" category has three technical concepts relating to connectivity in the final round, from Recaro, Lufthansa Systems and ViaSat. The 21 finalists come from a record shortlist of 68 submissions from 18 different countries. They were selected by the 24 high-ranking members of the international Judging Panel. As every year, the winners will be announced as part of the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2015 on 14 April in Hamburg.

Boeing in particular was successful with the Judging Panel. The US manufacturer has two entries amongst the 21 finalists, including its submission in the "Industrial Design and Visionary Concepts" category, the newly developed "Premium Arch" spacious entry area for the 777 cabin, incorporating a gentle lighting concept. It is facing off against products from Panasonic Avionics and Embraer. The Brazilian manufacturer entered the cabin of its E2 regional jet range, with its captivating innovative design, well-thought-out use of space, and ease of maintenance. Panasonic Avionics made it into the final with its Jazz seating concept for long-haul Economy. What makes this case study special is that for the first time, a seat has been developed around the possibilities of in-flight entertainment from the very beginning, instead of integrating it into the finished seat design.

While Economy is strong in this year's Industrial Design category, the Judging Panel's selection of finalists in the "Premium Class & VIP" category clearly puts another spotlight on the cabin's "front rows" as well. Two direct competitors, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, are both represented here with their First Class cabin concepts for the Airbus A380. The two Gulf carriers launched the flagship aircraft in 2014, but with different concepts. Whilst Qatar Airways offers its premium passengers a spacious on-board lounge, Etihad has used the space to create "The Residence", a separate three-room suite positioned above First Class. The list of finalists here is completed by Lufthansa Technik. The Hamburg-based company submitted an innovative modular VIP seat concept that brings the comfort of a living room winged chair to the altitude of 10,000 metres - including a fold-out champagne glass holder, of course.

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The bulk of passengers, though, is more likely to encounter one of the finalists from the "Passenger Comfort Systems" category, dominated this year by connectivity. The CL3710 economy seat from Swabian manufacturer Recaro includes an integrated 13.3-inch flat screen to provide in-seat cinema entertainment even on the longest of long-haul flights, and even has a port for connecting the passenger's own smartphone to the on-board system. The growing smartphone and tablet market also inspired the second German finalist in the category, Lufthansa Systems, to develop the BoardConnect in-seat solution. Instead of installing cables and monitors in every seat on the plane, they simply latch a tablet into each backrest and connect it with the on-board entertainment system by wi-fi. On the subject of wi-fi, the third finalist in the category is the US company ViaSat, bringing bandwidth to the skies with its satellite-based Fly-Fi product. Specifically, this means 12 Mbps at each seat, sufficient to stream movies above the clouds.

The "bring your own device" concept is present in the "Passenger Comfort Hardware" category as well. US-based company Smart Tray made it into the finals by simply and effectively adding a tablet-holder to the folding table at the passenger seat. The "Space Bins" that brought Boeing the second space in the 2015 finals are also effective. A modification to the overhead lockers makes it possible for cabin baggage to be stowed vertically. The result is almost 40% more room for cabin baggage with the same amount of space in use. And another smart solution brought SANTO into the final for this category: where the narrowing fuselage at the rear of the aircraft normally goes from three to two seats on each side, a special seat is installed, one-and-a-half times the normal width, making use of the normally wasted space. This seat can then be assigned to overweight passengers or divided and assigned to passengers with small children. SANTO stands for "Special Accommodation Needs for Toddlers and Overweight Passengers".

Efficient solutions also characterise the "Material & Components" category. Dresden's Fraunhofer Institute made it into the final with a new concept for dropping oxygen masks. Smart FLUOX achieves an across-the-board increase in efficiency of 80 to 90 percent compared to conventional electromagnetic mechanisms. Reliant Worldwide Plastics from the US reached the final three with a thermoplastic carbon backrest. SABIC also made it into the final with a plastic solution, the transparent LEXAN XHR2000 product. Application possibilities range from windows to surface elements within the cabin, providing interior designers in particular with completely new possibilities.

The "Greener Cabin, Health, Safety & Environment" category has established itself as an important part of the Award. Amongst the finalists is New Zealand company Phitek with its Economy Headphones. Headphones are one of the most stressed in-flight products, and these have a product life ten times that of conventional models. The "Humidity in Balance" system from finalist CTT Systems results in vast cost savings for the airline combined with improvements to the cabin climate. An ingenious drying system stops condensation of the cabin air as it encounters the cold fuselage structure. As a result, the cabin itself doesn't dry out so much and the weight increase and stress on the fuselage structure resulting from accumulated condensation are avoided too. The passenger benefits directly from the third finalist's concept in this category. B/E Aerospace's Solar Eclipse involves the insertion of a thin solar cell foil into the window blind, which enables the passenger to recharge electronic devices during the flight. The system is still under development, but the manufacturer is confident about gaining FAA approval.

The finalist concepts in the seventh category, "University", are not yet implemented in production either, but they are undoubtedly game-changing. The three finalists this year are universities from Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA. Alexandra Moceri from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit convinced the Judging Panel with "Escape" - a screen rail for the seat which can be activated with a simple hand movement, shrouding the passenger's eyes in darkness. A team from TU Delft in the Netherlands submitted the "Enable" concept, using the surface of the folding table as an interactive display. Marc Spille from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) already collected the Hamburg Aviation Young Talent Award at the end of 2014. His mobile vacuum trash container uses the vacuum technology of the on-board toilet to contract the rubbish bags in the galley to a space-saving format in seconds. His idea was developed in collaboration with Airbus.

All of the finalists' products and concepts will be presented in the Crystal Cabin Award Gallery (Hall B6, Booth 6C10) at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg (14 - 16 April, 2015). And on the second day of the show (15 April, 11 AM), the winners will personally present their concepts to the public.

The official crowning of winners and presentation of trophies will take place the evening before at a formal dinner in the Hotel Atlantic Kempinski in Hamburg.

Renowned industry award with renowned industry support - we thank our sponsors of the Crystal Cabin Award 2015:

Airbus, Aircraft Cabin Management, Aircraft Interiors Expo (Reed Exhibitions), Aircraft Interiors International Magazine, Aircraft Interiors Middle East (AIME), APEX, B/E Aerospace, Bishop GmbH Aeronautical Engineers, DIEHL Aerosystems Holding, Embraer,  Emirates Airline, FERCHAU AVIATION Division, HAECO Americas, Inflight Magazine, Jetliner Cabins, Lufthansa Technik AG and SEKISUI SPI.