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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Faster, higher, safer? Emirates planes could be going windowless

Emirates airline chief says planes without windows could be future of travel

Emirates airlines windowless planes -- almost indistinguishable from the real thing? Courtesy: Sam Chui.
Emirates airlines windowless planes -- almost indistinguishable from the real thing? Courtesy: Sam Chui.

Emirates airlines may be planning for a future without what may seem a vital part of any aircraft – the windows.

And it may not be such a crazy idea – windowless planes will fly faster, higher and come with safety benefits, experts have said about the airline's revolutionary vision of a future.

Emirates president Tim Clark said on Wednesday at the International Air Transport Association annual meeting in Sydney that the idea comes from their first class suites. Since December 2017, the middle row of their first class suites on their newest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft have been housing virtual windows, or screens that act like windows.

The idea now is that these could one day replace aircraft windows altogether. Excluding them can mean a 50 per cent saving on the weight of the aircraft, the way they change the load and structure of the outer shell means the fuselage must be reinforced to hold them.

Experts said it would also address fatal security issues, such as in April when a Southwest Airlines passenger died after being partially sucked out following a breakage.

“On the positive side, the fuselage becomes stronger and an accident, like the one that happened on a Southwest Airlines flight, will be unlikely,” said Capt Ruben Morales, former head of flight safety operations with IATA.

“On the negative side, the manufacturers need to ensure in emergency situations, with no electrical power in a dark aircraft, that cabin crew can maintain situational awareness of the outside conditions to guide passengers to safety.”

Overall, though, windowless planes would be a positive experience and mark an imminent transition into the future, said Capt Morales, who is currently the general manager of corporate safety at Hong Kong Airlines.

Emirates debuted the virtual windows at the Dubai Air Show in November last year and once again showed the technology at the Arabian Travel Market in April.

Describing the aircraft of the future, Mr Clark mapped out his vision in a recent podcast on the airline’s Emirates World Series.

“I can see the modern aircraft of the future flying faster, higher, windowless,” he said, claiming that the change would make planes faster.

“Will we have an Airbus 380 at supersonic speeds in the next 20 years? No, I don’t think so. What we may have is aircraft that are windowless.

"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 fibre optic camera technology to beam in the images from the outside into those windows, as we have done on the first class suite,” Mr Clark said

A post shared by Sam Chui (@samchui) on

He said the quality of the images would give passengers a better view of the outside.

“The centre suites have full windows and we have cameras bringing in the images from outside. In fact, these images are such high definition, with a very high pixel count, they are better than with the naked eye.”

By removing windows, he said manufacturers could build an uninterrupted fuselage without requiring to reinforce it for windows.

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Travel enthusiasts who have tried out the new offering reported a scramble for the middle seat.

“It’s actually an attraction for passengers who fly first class. Many passengers who bought first class tickets were going out of their way to choose to sit in the middle to try out the new windowless window. Instead of having a proper window they want to try out the virtual window in the middle of the first class suite,” said Sam Chui, a popular UAE aviation blogger about his flight to Brussels.

“Personally, I did not feel enclosed and the views are very real. It’s all still very new and impressive.”

Others who battle a fear of flying were not so thrilled.

“I fly but I hate it. I need to force myself on to a plane so I don’t think I would get on a plane with no windows. I would feel even more trapped. Just the thought is scary,” said Hesham Mohammed, a financial analyst.

“I would constantly worry about what was going on outside that we on the inside have no knowledge about.”