Sylvie Barak

October 28, 2014

3 Min Read
Windowless Planes: The Future of Flight or Fright?

Would you fly in a plane that had no windows?

British developers at the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) believe that taking out the tiny porthole windows in planes and replacing them with giant flexible OLED screens is the future of flight, and posit it could even become a reality in less than 10 years.

The idea has some excited and others terrified, but ultimately, for CPI, it's an environmental issue which the organization claims will reduce plane weight and thereby cut fuel consumption rather significantly.

Indeed, for every 1% reduction in the weight of an aircraft, there is a saving in fuel of 0.75%. In theory this means flights could become cheaper, but the airline business being what it is, those savings might not trickle down to the passenger.

While the idea could leave some panicky with claustrophobia, CPI's concept video envisages the screens being able to offer passengers a panoramic look at what's going on outside, with the added interactivity of being able to tap on points of interest for explanations, surf the net, or just switch it off (like pulling down the window blind today).

The screens would be large, high-definition, ultra-thin, and lightweight, making up the bulk of the fuselage. Impossible, you say? Apparently not with the advent of printable electronics.

Flexible OLEDS have long been something of a holy grail for mobile designers, but with flexible transistors now a reality, and OLEDs already beginning to be printed on things like packaging, it's not looking like such a far off prospect anymore.

Companies like LG have already showcased 18-inch bendable touchscreens, while semiconductor firms like Atmel have also shown off early concept designs around XSense, their touchscreen circuit designs printed onto bendy plastic.

Will passengers be happy to sit in a sealed, windowless cylinder for hours and hours, though? Some don't seem to mind, while others express concern at being so cut-off from the outside.

Others have expressed horror at the notion that the all-encompassing screens could be used to beam commercials at passengers incessantly throughout their flight. "Can you imagine anything worse than being trapped on a plane with commercials shouting at you from literally everywhere? Ugh!" wrote one commenter on Facebook.

Question is, is it even legal to have a passenger plane without windows and, if it is, why aren't cost-conscious airlines eliminating the windows right now and replacing them with blank walls already? After all, this is the model for cargo planes. The way airlines have been cutting costs over the years, would it really be any surprise if companies decided to eliminate windows everywhere save for first class, as an incentive to upgrade? Their benefit seems to be solely to prevent claustrophobia and provide a nice view of the clouds, after all.

Then again, it will be interesting to see where the FAA lands on the issue. The organization may not find anything legally wrong with "windowless" planes, so long as passengers weren't forcefully subjected to advertising against their will, and the environmental benefits may outweigh any public outcry.

What do you think? Windowless planes... a good thing, a bad thing, or something that you wouldn't give much thought to either way?

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