Emirates Airline has revealed it plans to build windowless planes, but aviation experts have warned critical safety risks would likely delay these aircraft from flying commercially – and for good reason.
Emirates president Sir Tim Clark told the BBC on Thursday the company’s aim is for all planes of the future to have no windows.
While on the surface this may come as bad news to some passengers who love the window seat, there is a twist – the walls of the plane will contain screens displaying “virtual windows”.
Mr Clark said passengers would be looking at images on screens, projected from outside the plane using fibre-optic cameras, instead of being able to peer directly outside.
Watch a trial run of the proposed first-class suite
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This would enable airlines to cut costs because the aircraft would be lighter and would lose less heat through the windows.
But aviation experts told The New Daily there was a very good reason for having windows on planes.
Why planes have windows
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)’s Peter Gibson said an important part of the in-flight safety briefing is to instruct passengers to ensure their window shades are up during takeoff and landing.
He said this is crucial in the event of an emergency.
“This is so the crew can see what’s happening outside the aircraft during an emergency landing,” Mr Gibson said.
“The optimum maximum time to evacuate an aircraft is 90 seconds. This is what the crew is trained to do. But you don’t want to be wasting time getting people to lift the blinds up.
“The crew needs to be able to quickly assess which side to evacuate the plane, for example if there is a fire, because every second counts.
“One clear issue [with windowless planes] is being able to visually assess what’s going on outside an aircraft – the situational awareness of what’s happening outside is critical.”
‘Technology can crash’
Airline and manufacturing researcher Professor Greg Bamber of Monash University.
“[Flight attendants] need to be able to quickly see whether, in an emergency, the plane is landing on water, or a forest, or an open field or a runway,” he said.
“They need to know which side of the plane to evacuate before actioning the emergency slides. Not having windows could delay that response time.
“Virtual windows would also rely on technology working. But, as we know, technology can crash, whereas an old-fashioned window can always be opened.”
The absence of windows would also present challenges for those who do not like flying, Professor Bamber said.
“Some people are a bit nervous about flying and having the windows there may help to alleviate feelings of claustrophobia.”
Original Tube trains were windowless – despite the passengers having nothing to see they freaked out and so changes were swiftly made. That was just for short journeys. A windowless plane would be far too mentally claustrophobic.
— Alex the Guiri (@AlexTheGuiri) June 6, 2018
CASA told The New Daily it would likely be a long time before these aircraft are certified because major manufacturers Boeing or Airbus would need to ensure any windowless plane met the relevant safety standards.
Other similar designs have been floated in recent years, including from Technicon Design France.
Its artistic impression showcases a plane whereby the ceiling and side walls contain screens, featuring numerous visual displays including a starry night or blue sky – even a beach scene or perspective from outer space.
But Monash’s Professor Bamber said there was more talk than action on the idea.
“It’s an exciting time for the aviation industry,” he said.
The New Daily contacted Emirates but did not receive comment by deadline.