Experts Insights

Crystal Cabin Award

A Never-Ending Flow of Innovations - Dr Holger Friehmelt

by Carmen Krause | CCA Experts‘ Insights | Monday, 17 February, 2020

Dr Holger Friehmelt is head of the Institute of Aviation at FH Joanneum Graz (University of Applied Sciences), and has been a member of the Crystal Cabin Awards judging panel since the scheme was established in 2006. Carmen Krause, project director of the Awards, discovers Dr Friehmelt’s views on the aircraft interiors sector.

Carmen Krause: Dr Friehmelt, before entering academia you had 15 years of cabin interiors industry experience and gained many aerospace qualifications. You have been working for many years for Recaro, where you were in charge of product management and later in management functions in the U.S. and South Africa. Could you share more details of your vision for the cabin interiors industry?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: I think most of us remember their first flight with parents to a holiday location. Comparing the lasting impression from my first flight on a BAC 1-11 with the standard of flying and the cabin experience today, one can clearly pick up the advances our industry has achieved. I have been fortunate enough to be part of this aviation family in the past and I promise you, the next years will be at least as exciting in terms of new developments as the past years have been. And the visions of new mobility solutions are not long term future plans but they are just around the corner.

Carmen Krause: What are the challenges looking at passenger experience – also with regard to the customer?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: There is always the challenging counter-balance between the different stakeholders involved. In a very simplified manner: Customers want comfort and most important of that: living space, airlines have to generate revenue and profit and thus cannot afford too much weight, and aircraft manufacturers hate too many too individual solutions onboard their aircraft (making certification and maintenance very complicated sometimes).

Carmen Krause: You have evaluated every Crystal Cabin Awards (CCA) entry over the past 14 years. With this special insight, what are the main trends or developments you have noticed in the scheme?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: With many entries, we have seen a much stronger focus on the real needs of the aircraft interiors communities. These recent entries are not simple stand-alone ideas but they are nicely merged current trends.

Carmen Krause: What do you see as the biggest challenges in terms of improving the passenger experience keeping in mind any inconveniences flyers are facing today? How do you think the passenger experience and passenger requirements will evolve over the next 20 years?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: I think we will see even further differentiated types of commercial travel. A past example is the highly successful and now commonly accepted introduction of premium economy. Novel ideas for ancillary revenue by the airplanes. Concepts to have pax pay for their individualized service package will certainly arise. A first indication is the introduction of the “light” fare for which you have to pay extra for checked in luggage.

But even more important for the interiors industry from my point of view is the never ending thrive to improve efficiency of the transportation system. I think (and also hope for such Crystal Cabin Award entries) that we will see new ideas to reduce turn-around time at the gate (novel baggage storage, simpler boarding, better access to seat rows, more intuitive markings and signage just to name a few).

Carmen Krause: Environmental sustainability is an increasingly important factor in aviation. What ‘green’ improvements do you foresee?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: Sustainability and ecological focus will continue to grow in importance for our industry. But I am also confident that a lot of innovations in the cabin interiors will eventually pay for themselves. Weight savings, reduced maintenance cost, improved efficiency – everything that positively contributes to the lifecycle cost of an aircraft cabin will be a welcomed improvement.

Carmen Krause: Do you have any advice for young innovators such as students who are hoping to work in the aircraft interiors sector?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: Be brave but remain realistic, be visionary but also learn and understand the constraints in the aircraft interiors industry (we can’t change physics nor economics). But please be aware that this will be a long-term effort and won’t happen quickly.

Carmen Krause: If you were granted a wish, what element of the passenger experience would you change?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: I do not have a crystal ball to predict the future, but what I really wish for is a revolution in the commercial air transport system. Our tubular, jet-propelled, subsonically travelling fuselages have been introduced decades ago and maybe it is time to try something new!

Carmen Krause: What are your recommendations for anyone thinking of entering the Crystal Cabin Awards?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: There are still plenty of opportunities to radically change our aerospace transportation system and I am sure you can contribute to this. If you already have a future concept or even a product in the pipeline, it is quite simply to enter for the Crystal Cabin Award competition.

Carmen Krause: What do you enjoy about being a member of the CCA judging panel?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: It is quite exiting to go through the “Wow” effect every year when you can see and discuss all the entries. There are so many great ideas throughout the different categories of the CCA. And of course my co-judges always contribute with their insight. I would not want to miss this fun learning environment about the cabin interiors future.

Carmen Krause: And finally, do you think the Crystal Cabin Awards have grown in status and popularity over the years?

Dr Holger Friehmelt: Even from the very first round, the Crystal Cabin Award has always managed to maintain a rewardingly high level of quality of its entries, finalists, and especially its winners. But what is absolutely striking to me is the Crystal Cabin Award’s media coverage. Worldwide media attention, not just in the context of the Aircraft Interiors Expo, and in all types of media channels from major news shows around the globe, printed media, and the vast presence on social media is a clear proof to me that the CCA has matured to a renown and commonly accepted player in the aircraft interiors industry.

Carmen Krause: Thank you very much for your insight.