The U.S. Patent Office has accepted Airbus’ design for shipping-container-style loading of passengers on aircraft. The company’s prolific patent department put forth the “aircraft pod concept” in 2013 to pre-load passengers in detachable cabin sections to minimize turnaround time on the ground. It was just accepted by the Patent Office last week. As depicted in the patent illustrations, the modules appear to be independent pressure vessels that get attached to what amounts to a flying flat deck. While there would no doubt be some technical considerations in such a design, the real issues might arise on the ground.
Loading and unloading 200-foot-long passenger modules would require some significant equipment at the gates and some fundamental changes to passenger and baggage flow at the airport. Still, Airbus strikes an upbeat tone in the patent documents, according to Wired’s scan. “Passengers could be pre-seated in cabin pods before the plane actually arrives, ready for integration on the aircraft, saving time and making processing much simpler.” Then there’s the question of whether Canadian budget airline WestJet, which packs and unpacks its airplanes as fast as anyone, might be infringing on the idea with a scheme in one of its popular April Fools’ Day videos earlier this year.