Emirates Airlines has introduced a first-class suite with virtual windows—a move which the airline says could pave the way for windowless aircraft.
In the first-class suite of the airline’s newest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, passengers don’t look through real windows, but at images transmitted from external fibre optic cameras.
Emirates president Sir Tim Clark says that the images are ‘better than [seeing] with the natural eye’.
He argues that windowless aircraft would avoid the extra weight needed to strengthen the fuselage and overcome the structural issues associated with windows. This would mean aircraft could be lighter, more fuel efficient, and fly faster and higher.
However, there are safety and other issues to be addressed.
For example, how would cabin crew see outside the aircraft in an emergency, particularly if there was a loss of power to the fibre optic cameras?
But the main obstacle to windowless aircraft could be passenger perceptions.
Aviation safety expert Professor Graham Braithwaite of Cranfield University told the BBC, ‘An aircraft could be very claustrophobic and for many, air travel is anxiety inducing already.
‘The refresh rate of screen technology may also have some undesirable side effects—will they flicker? What is the lag? How will it affect someone on a long-haul flight?’
Windowless aircraft hold the promise of the Olympic motto—higher, faster, stronger—but will it mean that nervous long-haul flyers will need to steel themselves for a marathon?