WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Windows on airplanes add upto 50 percent to the weight of the aircraft, and reduce their structural integrity, so people want to get rid of them.
Would you want to fly eight hours or more on an airplane with no windows? Absolutely you would I hear you cry, and that could be the future of aviation, says Emirates airlines president Tim Clark. Instead of real windows on the outside of the plane, passengers may instead look at images streamed onto a virtual window that’s only on the inside of the cabin. And if you think flying on an aircraft that doesn’t have any windows would be dull and boring, then it’s maybe time you change your view. Pun intended.
“Imagine now a fuselage as you’re boarding with no windows, but when you get inside, there are windows,” said Clark. “Now you have one fuselage which has no structural weaknesses because of windows. The aircraft are lighter, the aircraft could fly faster, they’ll burn far less fuel and fly higher.”
Windowless jet concept courtesy IXION
These benefits alone could help accelerate the adoption of electric aircraft where the lighter the aircraft are the less power they need to stay aloft, and while this windowless concept might sound far-fetched, but a limited version of the concept is already flying on the Dubai based airline’s new Boeing 777-300ER jets.
Emirates, known for its lavish first class suites, has already installed a type of virtual window on its suites occupying the middle section of the 777-300ER’s first-class cabin, the suites in the middle would not ordinarily have a window since they’re not adjacent to the cabin wall. Emirates’ suites along the sides of the cabin have normal windows.
Clark expanded on the idea of virtual windows via a podcast posted to Emirates’ website and described how it would work, saying that “on the outside there will appear to be no windows, but on the inside there will be a full display of windows. And we will use fiber-optic camera technology to beam in the images from the outside into those windows – as we have done on the first-class suites.”
And the quality? Possibly better than one might assume, at least according to industry insider Zach Honig who got to try some out last year.
— Zach Honig (@ZachHonig) December 1, 2017
Still, some sceptics have concerns about the idea. Among the most obvious is that passengers might simply have a preference for the real thing and for real views…
“An aircraft could be very claustrophobic and for many, air travel is anxiety inducing already,” said Graham Braithwaite, an aviation safety expert and a professor at Cranfield University in England.
More importantly, virtual windows could raise concerns about safety.
“Being able to see outside the aircraft in an emergency is important, especially if an emergency evacuation has to take place,” added Braithwaite.
For now though, at least, regulators in Europe seemed to suggest the idea could fly.
“We do not see any specific challenge that could not be overcome to ensure a level of safety equivalent to the one of an aircraft fitted with cabin windows,” said the UK’s CAA in a statement.
And who knows, as elsewhere other companies like Virgin Hyperloop and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies talk about building Mach 1 and Mach 3 trains, hyperloops, which are essentially windowless pod like trains in vacuum tubes, around the world, from Dubai to India, virtual windows might have a role to play there too. So who knows, like it or not you might have to get used to the idea…