Airbus and Zodiac Aerospace to develop cargo hold sleeping compartments on planes

Ever wished you could get out of your uncomfortable economy class seat during a long-haul flight and have a lie down? Soon you might be able to.

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is partnering with aviation equipment supplier Zodiac Aerospace to develop new sleeping berths for passengers that would fit in the cargo compartment of planes.

The beds would be housed in removable modules that could be interchanged with regular cargo containers.

"This approach to commercial air travel is a step change towards passenger comfort," Geoff Pinner, head of Airbus' cabin and cargo program says.

"We have already received very positive feedback from several airlines on our first mock-ups."

While Pinner did not state which airlines had given feedback, it's likely one of them was Qantas.

Last month, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce revealed the airline was looking at potentially installing train-style bunk beds in its cargo holds for new, ultra-long-haul flights.

As part of the airline's Project Sunrise, Qantas is aiming to launch non-stop flights between Australia's east coast cities and London and New York. The airline last month launched the first-ever non-stop commercial flights between Europe and Australia, flying from Perth to London.

See also: 17 hours in economy class: Passenger verdict on non-stop to London

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"One of the concepts that we have is maybe if we're not carrying freight you do something lower where cargo is on the aircraft, do you have an area where people can walk? Do you have berths like on a train?" he said.

"There's a lot of 'out there' thinking that's going on."

Qantas had reportedly put the idea to Airbus and Boeing and this announcement from the European manufacturer indicates it is taking the concept seriously.

Airbus said in its announcement that the option would be available for its A330 planes by 2020. It was also looking into developing the beds for its new A350 XWB jets.

The designs released by Airbus show several other potential passenger uses for cargo modules, including conference rooms, kids play zones, a passenger lounge and a medical care centre.

So, how realistic is it that we will see these sleeping compartments?

Many passengers are not aware of their existence, but similar spaces already exist on many planes. Crew and pilot rest areas, hidden above or below the main cabin, often feature full length beds and are accessed through hidden stairs at the front or rear of the plane.

But could passengers ever experience the same level of in-flight comfort? As with every airline decision, it will come down to the economics. Ultra-long-haul flights, taking 20 hours or more, will likely mean airlines are unable to carry as much weight in order to make the distance.

This could result in planes not being able to carry as much cargo, which in turn could result in otherwise unused space in the cargo hold.

Rather than have this space go to waste, installing sleeping berths, which would weigh far less than cargo, could create an additional revenue stream.

Instead of paying an extra $100 or so for an emergency exit row, passengers could pay an additional fee (likely to be several hundred dollars, at least) for access to the sleeping compartment.

In the meantime, lying down on planes will remain the privilege of those fortunate enough to be flying in business or first class.

See also: 10 secrets on board planes you never knew about

See also: How Qantas is taking on the big problem with ultra-long-haul flights

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