Whether you’re a keen flier or a nervous passenger, there’s little denying that window seat travel can be visually spectacular. Flying over the earth’s natural spectacles like the towering alps, cerulean oceans or majestic jungles can provide the most memorable free entertainment on a plane.
But such a novelty could soon become a thing of the past, as the boss of a major airline has announced that virtual windows may become a permanent fixture on his fleet.
Sir Tim Clarke, president of Emirates, has announced that the airline may move completely towards windowless planes after unveiling virtual windows for the first time - and they might even burn less fuel.
The luxury airline will be introducing the new plane model for some first class passengers abroad their new Boeing 777-300 aircraft. While the view from ordinary glass windows will remain in economy class (for now!), those in the middle suites will see images projected in from the outside of the plane using high-res fibre-optic cameras. This means that passengers will only see a rendering of the outside, rather than the reality.
Clarke told the BBC: “The quality of the imagery is so good, it’s better than the natural eye.[It’s] as if you were in the window seat”.
“So can the new generation of aircraft be windowless with this technology? In my view, there’s no reason why not.”
Most intriguingly, there could be an environmental benefit of these planes. Not only will this aircraft be faster and lighter; Clarke also cited that a windowless plane could burn less fuel, presenting an intriguing (and timely) opportunity to reduce environmental impact.
Right now, the average Boeing 747-400 burns approximately 10-11 tonnes of fuel per hour when in flight. This equates to roughly four litres of fuel every second. So there’s no doubt that flying contributes considerable amounts of planet-warming gases to the atmosphere - and this could present one small step towards fixing that.
That doesn’t absolve windowless planes of all objections, however. Critics have claimed that they could be detrimental to the overall passenger experience.
Victor Carlioz, co-founder of California-based design studio ACLA Studio, told CNN: “Some futuristic concepts show windowless aircraft and, while there may be some structural benefits to getting rid of windows, there is also another line of thought that says the opposite: having some point of communication with the outside improves the passenger experience”.
Saj Ahmad, Chief Analysis at StrategicAreo Research, also considers the practical problems at stake, despite their existence in “an ideal world”.
“…in the event of emergency, cabin crew often need to look out for reference points to coordinate evacuations. Having visual as well as spacial awareness is vital and in a windowless jet, they don’t exist -especially if there is an electrical fault which then means the ‘electric’ windows do not work and you can’t see outside”.
But not all aviation experts have been so cynical about the idea. Douglas Drury from the University of South Australia even challenges Ahmad’s claims about safety, suggesting that having windows in critical areas of the plane could be a suitable compromise.
“Or you could also set up a system where the camera technology has its own power pack and the windows could be generated via batteries and project that image in real time in the event of a technical failure”.
Regardless of the reception of this particular idea, environmentally conscious travel is clearly an upcoming priority in the aviation world. Just last week, the first ever plane with no moving parts took flight, representing a breakthrough which could eventually lead to carbon neutral travel. The “solid state” plane successfully flew for a distance of sixty metres, proving that flight is possible without the weight of jets and propellers. While the project is at its earliest stages, Professor Guy Gratton - aerospace engineer and visiting professor at Cranfied University - highlighted that the impressive progress is “very exciting”.
Both the windowless plane and the plane with no moving parts signalled that the aviation industry is broadening its attempts to develop aircraft which limit environmental impact on the planet. Though some of these changes might seem unnerving to even the most seasoned flier, with climate change quickly becoming a startling reality, they might just be a necessary adjustment.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this intriguing development in aviation! Are windowless planes an innovative step to be welcomed in an increasingly environmental-conscious world? Or is that simply not enough to dispel the fact that it could just be a claustrophobic nightmare?