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July, 2020

Airworthy materials for planet Earth

by Yardena Malka

The world of aviation has been pushing the textile industry for years to create environmentally friendly alternatives that meet the requirements of safety, functionality and esthetics – something that remains a significant challenge to this day!

Raw materials needed for the production of textiles can put a major burden on our planet. In many cases, the farms cultivating such materials require excessive amounts of water, pesticides and herbicides. Among the biggest culprits are often cotton plantations, which are known for their massive use of pesticides and for the deplorable working conditions that frequently prevail there. Rayon, also known as viscose, has ruined many old forests and deprived the people who live there of their livelihoods. Moreover, it requires an enormous amount of dangerous chemicals to produce.

6320_Etihad_Business_Landscape Airworthy materials for planet Earth

Etihad Business Class

Synthetic materials such as nylon are  produced in petrochemical processes using fossil fuels. The processes produce greenhouse gases and the materials take decades to decompose again. In the case of leather, it is mainly the processing that is toxic. Environmentally-aware companies that provide airworthy materials are striving to offer more and more sustainable and affordable alternatives. One such company that has stepped up to the plate is the Tapis Corporation of New York, which has been a pioneer since 1977 in the development of high-performance fabrics for aircraft interiors. Cooperation is the key to success at Tapis: For more than 30 years Tapis has partnered with Ultrafabrics® to provide performance fabrics to the aircraft interiors industry. All their products are dedicated to reducing dependency on finite resources by creating mostly plant-based materials. These materials are made in an ethical, sustainable and future-focused way, with the planet and people in mind. 

An alternative to petroleum-based fabrics

One product offered by Tapis is Ultrasuede, the world’s first non-woven microfiber suede made of partially plant-based polyester using non-edible plants. Ultrasuede is inherently lightweight, reducing carbon emissions through lower fuel burn in aircraft that use the product.

The Ultrafabrics portfolio of products offered by Tapis are an alternative to conventional leather and deliver the look and feel of European calfskin. To manufacture these products, the company has made a lot of advances: Ultrafabrics recaptures 98 percent of solvents used in the tanning process and is building a wastewater treatment plant directly at its mill. The company’s manufacturing processes and products, which combine classic esthetics and authentic softness with a natural look, and their dedication to being absolutely animal-cruelty free, are the basis upon which Tapis considers itself to be “ultra” sustainable.

Embraer-Lineage-1000E Airworthy materials for planet Earth

Embraer Lineage 1000E


Another aspect of sustainability is disposal and CO2 emissions. Animal-based products such as leather often come in irregular shapes and sizes, making it difficult to fit objects without there being bulky seams and leftover pieces. By producing and using engineered materials, Ultrafabrics is able to manufacture exactly the amount needed for outfitting a cabin and thus reducing waste. Another benefit of engineered materials is weight: Ultrafabrics produces lightweight materials, which reduce fuel consumption and lower the carbon footprint of aircraft in flight.

Most of the product collections that Ultrafabrics offers through Tapis are engineered using proprietary technology known as Takumi Technology. This is a way of reducing carbon footprint already on the ground: each layer of the product is uniquely constructed to maximize comfort, performance and sustainability. The technology includes features such as antimicrobial protection and enhanced ink and stain protection, which make seat covers easier to clean, reduce the need for chemical cleaning, and mean that the covers have to be replaced less often. Consequently, it increases the longevity of materials and reduces waste – both essential for the wellbeing of our environment.

Research is key

Aviation requires a unique approach: Designers need to combine new technologies with esthetic perceptions and safety and security standards – from the beginning of a design process to the very end. Airworthy materials need to meet the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which sets stringent quality and safety standards for the aviation industry all over the world. Accordingly, many companies have understood that investing in research is key to success. Tapis, for example, runs its own testing center in Dallas, Texas, which is dedicated entirely to flame treatment, quality control and the development of next-generation fabrics.

0-3 Airworthy materials for planet Earth

Tapis collaborating with Butterfly and Kydex / SEKISUI

How difficult it is to combine all of these elements becomes clear when talking to Jason Estes, Tapis Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing: “Flammability  challenges are significant when developing new fabrics. Variables include what substrate you’re using, what glue, and how the different materials will interact. At our lab, we have the ability to conduct Bunsen burner, OSU heat release [a test that is used to determine the heat release rates of cabin materials when exposed to radiant heat] and smoke density testing.” When we take all of this into consideration, as well as the qualities of next-generation fabrics that are meant to be sustainable, environmentally friendly and animal cruelty free – we appreciate that developing and producing airworthy materials is a huge task. “Our biggest challenge is to design products around unique applications in aircraft,” says Jason. For instance, “designers may draw inspiration from products used across other markets and it becomes our challenge to make this inspiration a reality for use in aircraft. Unique, specially designed applications demand different characteristics to traditional upholstery fabrics used in other markets. We may have to customize finishes or backcloth constructions within our mills’ product ranges to engineer fabrics specific for use in aviation.”

A planet-friendly pioneer

Tapis started experimenting and finally found a new way to engineer more ecological material – and make it available to all those designers and clients who were looking for such innovations. Their work is based on science; when developing new products, they consider flammability, durability, weight, sustainability and passenger comfort. This passion for developing new materials results in revolutionary products such as the
Ultraleather Bolero, which has become the benchmark for breathability and acoustic performance in the business jet market. It is the “go-to product” for major OEMs trying to reduce noise pollution in cabins and has been proven to outperform traditional woven fabrics for sound absorption qualities.


Tapis is a role model when it comes to reducing environmental damage, and its dedication to research and development is inspiring. The development of new materials is crucial in the search for alternatives to cotton, rayon, synthetic materials and leather. Tapis is also a leader when it comes to knowing what features interior designers want – such as texture, color and gloss level – and then balancing its environmental values with the standards of the aviation industry. “We marry design, engineering and sustainability,” says Jason. “It’s the only way we’re able to create exciting new products for the aviation industry and meet all the challenges – from the beginning of the design process through to the very end.” 

Virgin-Atlantic-Suite-2 Airworthy materials for planet Earth

Virgin Atlantic

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