04 May 2014 11:30

In late 2008 Etihad Airways embarked on a search for a leading design agency partner to design their future cabin interiors for their new fleet of A380’s. 

Etihad Airways stated its ambition was to be the best airline in the world and outlined a vision for the project that would build on its success to continue to redefine airline travel.  This meant that the airline wanted to disrupt the status quo in the industry and create a unique guest experience that would reflect the airline’s next phase of brand maturity and the exciting vision of Abu Dhabi. 

After a global pitch process, Etihad Airways believed that no single agency could support and deliver the vision so they asked a number of agencies to work together as a consortium to deliver their challenging ambition. Etihad Airways created the EDC – the collective name for the Etihad Design Consortium, which incorporated three companies, Acumen, Factorydesign and Honour Branding. 

Acumen were chosen to design the onboard seating across First Class, Business and Economy.  Factorydesign were tasked with designing the passenger experience and cabin interior elements such as galleys, lavatories and passenger destination zones.  Honour Branding were asked to coordinate the project across the EDC and manage the interface with Etihad.  Honour’s role was to advise Etihad on the innovation process and define the design strategy for the concept work. 

As the cabin interior products emerged Honour and Factorydesign were then tasked to work closely together to design the onboard guest experience, which included the new catering and onboard service offer. 

The project began with an extensive and unique piece of customer research, the Etihad Big Talks in cities around the world. The EDC partnered with Promise Communispace, leaders in co-creation, to put the customer at the very heart of the innovation process.  The research output created a vast number of ideas that were categorised into seven key customer insight territories. These territories helped to set the briefs and the strategic vision for the new onboard products and services. 

EDC were initially tasked with developing an overall vision for the aircraft and were asked to build on the airline’s successful ‘Inspired Service’, which was informed by some of the world’s best hotel and hospitality experiences. The vision created was to bring the individuality and exclusivity of a ‘Luxury Boutique hotel experience - that embraced Arabian modernism’.

Every aspect of the guest experience and cabin interior was explored, generating a large volume of concepts. 

The initial concepts were developed into physical full size mock-ups and were tested with customers to help evaluate and narrow down the options. EDC then developed the preferred concepts and built a partial full scale mock up of the Upper deck A380 and an entrance area on the main deck, at a secret location in a warehouse near Heathrow Airport, which later became the innovation lab for development meetings and concept testing. 

Through 2011 / 2012 the EDC developed the concepts and began to interact with Airbus and the chosen vendors to understand the technical interfaces of the new concepts into the aircraft, supporting the airline through key design and technical milestones. During this time work also started on translating the A380 product vision across the new B787 and adapting the products to meet the challenging constraints of the new catalogue aircraft.  This resulted in a new First Class suite product with a forward and aft configuration, enabling the width of the seat to be increased and create a unique ‘joggled’ aisle configuration. 

As the project moved into the technical design phase through 2013/14 EDC continue to support the Etihad team and the global supplier base to deliver the products to reality.

As the designs became more defined the mock-ups were updated to reflect the final product. The A380 and B787 mock up cabin sections were transported to Abu Dhabi to be built in the airlines new Innovation Centre, which will serve as a showcase and training facility for all staff and an innovation lab for what comes next.
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