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Cabin configuration and in-flight entertainment
Certain route economics may call for variations in seat configurations. So, some of the fleet may be configured to offer high-density seating as may be required, for example, in the case of some charter operations, or even the removal of some seats to conduct special missions. The mix of aircraft that comprise just one fleet type can also result in configuration variances. For example, initial deliveries of one type of aircraft may have 180 seats, but further models 186 seats due to a modification, or previous owner’s configuration. Other city-pairs with high demand for premium class travel may result in dedicated aircraft with higher numbers of first/business class seats serving primarily on that route. As a result of this, on-board galley equipment and catering requirements may then differ between units. Differences in such equipment, or the inability to offer appropriate catering service to suit the commercial requirement are examples of other limitations placed on IOCs for selecting a particular aircraft for a pattern of flights. Aircraft with differing seat configurations may be preferred for some routes and may be a source of disadvantage should the IOC need to ‘downgrade’ from a larger to smaller configured aircraft. There could be a passenger offload situation or, in the case of class size changes, a class downgrade for a premium passenger.
In addition, IFE may differ. In some cases, where airlines have brought newly manufactured aircraft into their fleets, or purchased or leased aircraft from other organisations, the IFE may be totally different from the IFE existing in other fleet units. Гп more recent times, we have observed continuous improvement in technology - emanating from the large, heavy in-flight video systems that took up a considerable amount of area within the cargo hold and provided limited entertainment, reduced now to WIFI systems that are light-weight, take up little space, and provide a diversity of multi-entertainment choices. As a result, overall aircraft weight (hence fuel burn) is reduced, greater belly cargo space enables increased payload, and customer satisfaction is improved.
Crew rest facility
On long-haul flights, crew members (in terms of both Pilot and Flight Attendant groups) must be provided with crew rest facilities. Subject to the length of the flight stage, a number of beds (necessary under regulation for horizontal crew rest) must be provided and located in specially designed, secure areas of the aircraft. Naturally, aircraft configured for such routes will have these facilities included on manufacture, whereas other fleet units of the same type may not. Thus, operations may be limited in terms of which specific aircraft can be utilised for long-haul operations.
Disinsection (or disinfection)
Most countries require disinsection of any aircraft operating internationally. This process is part of the country’s biosecurity procedures and typically is carried out at regular intervals. In past times, the passenger cabins of aircraft arriving into some countries may have had to be sprayed by quarantine officers, a process which caused much discomfort for passengers and of course delayed de-boarding. Thankfully, this process rarely occurs and more recently, airlines have had to conform with a certificated process to disinsect their aircraft at regular intervals as part of their ongoing maintenance procedures. Operationally, though, if the airline wishes to swap aircraft between their international and domestic fleets, they have to ensure that a suitably disinfected aircraft is available to operate the international schedule, or should the aircraft not be compliant, a quarantine spraying procedure may still need to be carried out.
At times, aircraft are painted into specific colour schemes distinct from the standard livery of the airline. This may be for promotions such as special events (Grand Prix, Olympic movement, health or other special causes), the airline’s alliance partnership, emphasising indigenous culture, or may reflect the process of updating all company aircraft into a new livery scheme as part of a corporate marketing push. Such promotion may call for specific aircraft to serve a dedicated route structure. In more obscure circumstances, airlines may elect to de-identify their aircraft (by ‘whiting’ out markings or colours), perhaps for the purpose of a leasing arrangement or for political reasons.
Airlines, from time to time, decide to upgrade their fleet to adapt a changed business model, or in response to competition, or simply to refresh their product offerings as a result of wear and tear. Such an upgrade may range from internal cosmetic changes such as decor, carpets, and seat and head-rest coverings to more significant changes such as a complete seat replacement with new styled seats, or re-designed flat beds that may be slimmer and lighter in weight. The transition of these changes occurs over quite some time (e.g., six weeks per aircraft) as aircraft typically undergo this work as part of their normal maintenance schedule, thus saving the excessive removal of aircraft from the flying patterns.
Ownership and insurance
Airlines that lease foreign aircraft or have within their fleets aircraft that have not been registered in the country may be inhibited from sending that aircraft off-shore, due to the terms of a contract or terms of insurance. This applies not only to airframes but engines as well. With a mixed fleet of owned and leased aircraft, typical of many airlines, restrictions due to these reasons are quite limiting operational factors for IOCs.
Aircraft operating over expanses of water must, by regulation, carry life rafts of sufficient capacity to house all occupants of the aircraft in the event of an evacuation into water. On some aircraft types, rafts are incorporated in the emergency door/slide system or permanently fitted in part of the aircraft such as the roof cavity or otherwise as per the aircraft’s configuration. Once the number of passengers exceeds the fitted life-raft capacity, then additional life rafts need to be loaded. If an aircraft is committed to non-overwater operations, the inclusion of life rafts is not necessary, and to do so would unnecessarily add to the aircraft’s operating weight and hence operational cost. However, it will soon be realised that should aircraft changes be conducted, ensuring the appropriate equipment has been fitted to the aircraft then becomes a factor for operational efficiency and maintenance scrutiny.