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Ambience in your hands

by Eisha Irshad

The esthetics of lighting cabin interiors and its importance for passengers’ quality of travel experience

Light builds an overall impression; it can change how we perceive a space. Did you ever wonder why we like some spaces more than others, why they feel safer and more comfortable even though the furniture may be virtually the same? It is because light has the ­potential to change a space from dull to cozy or from gloomy to lively. Light, and all its characteristics from direction to color to intensity, can enhance physical and ­psychological well-being. A well-designed and bright environment improves mood and alertness, whereas dim environments can boost creativity. In interior design, light is important for perceptual clarity, ­spaciousness and pleasantness.

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Ambient lighting creates a relaxing atmosphere in a private Falcon 7X business jet (Photo: Dassault ­Aviation)

Hence air travel should not feel like sitting in a cold and cramped waiting room. Light guides and directs attention and awareness of the surroundings, which is very important in air travel. Lighting capabilities and features can transform the interior ­esthetics of a cabin, allowing passengers to always be in control of their ­atmosphere as they live, love and work aboard the ­aircraft.

“ I Live, I Fly, I Am. ”

Douglas Keeney

Over time the aviation industry has ­increasingly placed more emphasis on ­passengers’ experience and comfort. ­Today’s air travel can be luxurious, ­especially if it is possible to custom design the cabin. Some of the most elite cabins are even considered works of art. A ­comfortable and familiar cabin environment is often one of the most important decision factors in purchasing or leasing a jet. A com­fortable flight can allow people to be more productive, creative and happy. Seen in this light, traveling with a private jet is highly desirable because of the elevated quality of life spent during those hours.

Improving the quality of travel:

Wide and spacious cabins, luxurious and comfortable ergonomic seating, cellphone coverage via satellite, entertainment and communication systems, lounging and working areas – these are all staple design terms that jet owners are familiar with when designing their cabin. In the ­hierarchy of what makes a passenger ­comfortable, lighting is often the second most ­important factor. With this in mind, RUAG MRO International engineers ­dedicate a good portion of their design approach to curating the right cabin ­lighting for ­customers.


Vincent Rey, design director and co-owner of M&R associates design, observes that “light is a very important detail in the cabin – one that can make an enormous ­difference between an average design and a well-curated one. It can change the ­atmosphere as well as the perceived ­volume of the cabin.” At M&R associates design the design director uses mood lighting to affect passengers during various times of the flight. Lighting during daytime ­boarding differs from evening boarding lighting. Dinner light, movie time light, sunrise and sunset times are all important elements to take into consideration when one wants to improve the quality of flight time.

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Rendering of RUAG MRO International cabin interior design for VIP Bombardier Global cabin series

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Well-curated lighting enhances the volume and shape of this Boeing BBJ cabin interior. (Photo: M&R associates design)

Inspired use of space:

The early development of lighting in ­aviation focused purely on illumination and low energy consumption. Today engineers and interior designers work ­together on lighting elements to meet both the requirements of the aircraft and the customer’s esthetic wishes. The goal is to maximize cabin comfort using as little energy as possible. These same engineers and designers engage with space structures that are circular rather than ­rectangular and try to create the same feeling one would have at home, on ­vacation or in the office. The shape of the fuselage has actually helped designers develop innovative lighting concepts, because it allows them to use every ­millimeter of a confined space.

Light interacts with people in myriad ways:

A nice flight is rather less pleasant if your jet cabin is lit up like a stadium. Light has powerful effects on humans. Rather than adding character to the cabin, too much overhead light makes it look like a convention room. The light also inevitably casts huge shadows. A single overhead light source can be a terrible blunder, as it creates the illusion that the cabin is smaller than it is. A variety of light sources will make the space more flexible. Mixing light sources at different levels can also create a flattering ambiance. Ambient lighting can set a particular mood and fancy accent lights can highlight and spruce up dull interiors. For instance, imagine a sconce with overhead lighting. This system can make the cabin feel more open, inviting and can give a subtle glow while creating a luxe design statement. In a confined space such as a jet cabin, it is often ­recommended not to use lower-down light sources, as they will seem blinding to passengers. Warm lights increase coziness and liveliness, and cool lights are used to decrease tension. Depending on the characteristics of the light, the environment can be business-like, movie-theater-like, wellness-like, dream-like; and any way you like. Research has shown that anxiety caused by the fear of flying can be ­exacerbated by the loss of control over one’s environment. Effective lighting can give people the ­feeling of control over their personal space and comfort, ­alleviating some of that fear. Smart ­lighting applications are a major contri­butor toward a stress-free and restful flight experience. How we feel when we travel can make a world of difference in how energized we are when we arrive at our destination.

“Artificial light is better than natural light, because we can direct it where we want.”

David Daiches

Radiant well-being:

With a huge range of lighting now avail­able, the provision of cabin lighting can be chosen, specified and regulated by task ­illumination metrics. The quantity and quality of light, the amount of glare, its placement, flicker, contrast and shadows are all important elements that affect us.

The advantages of LED:

The emergence of light-emitting diode (LED) technology has introduced many possibilities for varying light to our benefit. It is possible to create specific lighting ­designs with the chromaticity and intensity levels offered by LED light systems. Recent LED lighting studies have shown an ­increase in the positive perception of LED over florescent lighting. LED lighting ­systems are also considered to be more ­reliable, to require less maintenance, to be safer to dispose of, to reduce aircraft ground time, and to weigh less, which means lower fuel costs. Design director Vincent Rey adds: “To create the right mood lighting, we play with LED color, the light temperature, the intensity of the light and which of the lights in the cabin should be on, dimmed or off for each mood light setting.”

Right shade:

Beyond pure color the shades and tints of each of those colors are also important factors. They can change passengers’ state of mind by making them feel warm, cheerful, calm, safe and energized. It is also common to find cabin interiors sporting shades of brown. A brown can be warmed up with a little red or cooled with a little blue, and can also be lightened or darkened. Designers often use brown because it is the color of earth and induces a feeling of naturalness and comfort while equally evoking a sense of security and stability.

Balance between color and intensity:

To help passengers relax and sleep, night light settings are often installed. The ideal sleeping conditions typically require little to no light. This can be achieved by ­balancing illumination intensity with the color of the light. For ambient indirect lighting, LED tubes come with control and dimmer boxes. Depending on the time of the flight, a dimmer allows you to easily change the brightness and mood of the cabin. Because cabins are not cubes, smart lighting practices can take advantage of curved wall space.


Creating the right environment and spatial esthetics means understanding the people who will use the cabin space, the purpose they will be using it for, and the type of ambience they prefer. For example, a jet that caters to a sports team will want an interior that reduces fatigue and muscle strain, and a jet interior designed for ­politicians may require an interior that ­reduces stress and encourages diplomatic dialogue. A jet owner who uses the ­aircraft for transporting family may want the passengers to feel safe, loved and at home. All of these emotions and even physical conditions can be improved through lighting. Ambience can be in your hands.

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Night lights installed to aid relaxing and sleeping on a Falcon 7X. (Photo: Dassault ­Aviation)

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