Aircraft

Airbus patent shows modular, removable aircraft cabins

Airbus patent shows modular, r...
The patent puts forward a vision of a very different airport experience
The patent puts forward a vision of a very different airport experience
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The compartments, which could take on the purpose of a passenger, luxury passenger or freight unit, would be transferred between the aircraft and airport via a docking module
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The compartments, which could take on the purpose of a passenger, luxury passenger or freight unit, would be transferred between the aircraft and airport via a docking module
The cost of creating and implementing such a system, paired with unforeseen complications in the development process, as well as the significant alterations you'd have to make to current airport architectures, means we won't be taking a ride in a modular airliner any time soon
2/3
The cost of creating and implementing such a system, paired with unforeseen complications in the development process, as well as the significant alterations you'd have to make to current airport architectures, means we won't be taking a ride in a modular airliner any time soon
The patent puts forward a vision of a very different airport experience
3/3
The patent puts forward a vision of a very different airport experience
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According to a recently-granted patent,Airbus is exploring the potential of creating a new breed ofversatile, modular aircraft that would see detachable passengercabins slot into a hole in an aeroplane's fuselage. The concept hasthe potential to revolutionize air travel, while providingsignificant savings for airlines by reducing the time that planesspend idle on the ground.

After landing, and prior to launch, aconventional aeroplane has to sit on the tarmac waiting for anecessary but glacial set of events to unfold. This periodof inactivity, which is the combined result of a number of factorsincluding the embarking of passengers, luggage and freight, costsairlines time and money.

The newly patented concept would seekto remedy these limitations by taking a more modular approach to the wholesituation. Instead of a single hull, aeroplanes would essentially bebuilt with a hole in their fuselage between the nose cone and thetail section, into which modular compartments could be fitted andremoved.

The compartments, which could take onthe purpose of a passenger, luxury passenger or freight unit, wouldbe transferred between the aircraft and airport via a docking module,which according to Airbus would (ideally) be integrated into airportterminal buildings.

The cost of creating and implementing such a system, paired with unforeseen complications in the development process, as well as the significant alterations you'd have to make to current airport architectures, means we won't be taking a ride in a modular airliner any time soon
The cost of creating and implementing such a system, paired with unforeseen complications in the development process, as well as the significant alterations you'd have to make to current airport architectures, means we won't be taking a ride in a modular airliner any time soon

Such a system would allow passengers tobe seated, or cargo to be loaded over an extended period of timewhile the cabin was docked in the terminal without the need toimmobilize the aircraft beyond the time necessary to carry outpreflight operations such as refuelling, the cleaning of a cabin, andthe execution of routine technical checks. This would dramaticallyreduce inactivity time, with the effect of increasing the overallnumber of flights, and therefore profitability of the airline.

Furthermore, the implementation of amodular system would afford airlines an unprecedented level offlexibility in the make up of their fleet. Ordinarily, each aircraftis purpose built to serve as, for example, a passenger or freightservice. Therefore, under the current integrated aircraft designs, anairline would have to purchase additional aircraft or make costlymodifications to existing units to serve multiple roles.

A modular approach to aircraftconstruction would allow an airline to switch the purpose of a planein a matter of hours simply by replacing the cabin, ready to cater tothe short term needs of the airline with a level of cost effectiveefficiency that cannot be matched by single-hull aircraft.

It's fair to say that such a systemwould represent a huge leap forward in the commercial aviationsphere. But of course, it's very early days. The cost of creating andimplementing such a system, paired with unforeseen complications inthe development process, as well as the significant alterations you'dhave to make to current airport architectures, means we won't betaking a ride in a modular airliner any time soon.

Source: USPTO

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18 comments
Graeme Harrison
The proof that the concept was "already in the public domain" is that the UK cult/puppet/action TV series of the 1960s called "Thunderbirds" used it EXTENSIVELY. 'Thunderbird 2' was a green cargo plane that took-off horizontally (though rocket-powered). 'Thunderbird 2' was only a nose-cone and rocket-powered tail section. The centre body was empty, as it took various container-like pods to fill the centre-section, depending upon what type of rescue operation "International Rescue" was asked to perform.
I like the Airbus idea, but I think the claim that it is a 'new or novel concept' is false.
christopher
Typical. Come up with an obvious idea. Get a patent on it, despite the fact that obvious ideas are not patentable.
Bob
I thought of doing this long ago but didn't consider it a patent-able idea. A cargo plane where the tail lifts up and a cargo vessel is loaded has been around for quite a while. Building a plane like the one shown in this article would have to be quite heavy to be structurally sound. I suspect the reduced payload would nullify any increases in efficiency.
Timelord
Gerry Anderson would have been proud. Thunderbird 2 is go! But since they're abandoning a fully cylindrical cabin with its advantage of uniform cabin pressure containment, they should make the modules rectangular and slot them into a blended wing body design.
Or Airbus could go the extra distance. There are quite a few patents that show such modular cabins which would be ejected to parachute to the ground in an emergency. Most of those patents are from the last 20 years or so, but I remember reading about one such airliner "escape pod" patent back in the 1970s.
John Banister
I hope they do this. I also had a similar idea after thinking about the lines on airplanes. With the module in the terminal, the entire sides could move out of the way, making it so nice to be able to walk up to the row from the side, stow your gear and sit down without standing in that horrible line. Then, once the airplane lands, and the passenger module is transferred to the new terminal, people could exit the same way. This could also greatly reduce perceived injustice regarding luggage, since the per-row storage bin concept would be quite feasible, and there would be no shortage of opportunity to gate-check luggage that didn't fit. In fact, with this method, one might as easily have under floor storage as overhead storage, which could be a lot easier on people who aren't so good at lifting things overhead. Or, it might be better for bringing long items on a trip, since the underneath storage could reach across the entire row.
Deres
The issue is that it is not possible because of the pressurized shell. The section is circular because of that. It would not be possible to cut this shell and retablish its continuity. Thus, the section to remove shall be circular. This leads also to the addition of a pressure bulk behind the cockpit. And the beam shall support the plane structure on the ground whereas it is a part of the normal job of the pressurized structure, wjhich means additionnal weight. The final plane risk to be far less optimized than current planes ...
I add that if you want to optimize the passenger embarkement, there are plenty of improvement possible, just by increasing the numbers of opened doors. On a plane with embarkement/debarkement on the tarmac, you usually use the front and rear door at the same time, doubling the speed. It would also be possible to do that with less hassle than developping totally new planes and fully dedicated airports gates. It would also be possible to open real doors on the wing or doors on the upper deck for the A380 if you want to push the improvement.
MattII
@Deres, and even if it could be pressurised properly, imagine how many places there are now that could trigger a catastrophic de-pressurisation. Plus as you said, it increases weight and complexity, which dramatically increases cost, reduces range, etc.
Daishi
The structural integrity of the plane might not be the same with just a flatbed to set the box on but really the bottom portion portion of the plane could come up to form half of the fuselage. The lowest portion of the container would be cargo either way really so the windows in the cargo container could probably clear the lower permanent half of the fuselage.
Windows themselves may not be that important to have if you want to replace them with digital screens anyway.
Digital screens have potential to be cooler than regular windows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE06ELPwrH4
GregSmith
I think that most people who've wasted a lot of time in airports have had this idea, I know I did. Whether it's valid as a patent is another thing. Perhaps the docking mechanism could be patented, but as pointed out, this idea has been around for a while.
Fairly Reasoner
I'm not flying on something that gets bolted together just before each time it takes off.