Back in January, we first heard that Airbus would be offering the electronically dimmable ‘Dreamliner-style’ windows on its flagship A350 aircraft. The announcement from supplier Gentex was made at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2020), but since then, everything’s gone rather quiet. What’s the latest with dimmable windows from Airbus, and when will we see them arrive?
EDWs for the A350?
It was January 6th, 2020, when leading supplier of electronically dimmable windows (EDWs) for the aerospace industry, Gentex, announced it had sealed a deal with European planemaker Airbus to supply EDWs for its aircraft. EDWs use an electrochromic gel between two glass panels to allow light through or to block it out almost entirely at the touch of a button.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Introduced on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in 2011, the 787 remains the first and only commercial aircraft to use EDWs. The announcement that Airbus was to begin offering it on its A350 was exciting, to say the least, particularly given the marked improvement in the capabilities of the technology since it was first adopted.
For Airbus, Gentex said it had created a uniquely designed version of its EDWs. These were to be a single line-replaceable unit, giving easier maintenance and installation of the product, as well as having a longer-lasting, scratch-resistant dust cover.
At the time of the announcement, Gentex President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Downing commented,
“We worked together with Airbus to integrate the latest dimmable windows technology while further enhancing it with an additional specialty coating. The windows benefit aircraft operators and passengers alike, which ultimately enhances the user experience for everyone on board.”
Concluding the announcement, Gentex said further details of the rollout would be revealed ‘in the spring’. However, a lot has changed since then, and given the disruption to the industry over the course of 2020, Airbus likely put the EDWs on the back burner while it dealt with more pressing issues. So when can we expect to see them now?
Still on the cards for Airbus
While the timeline for offering EDWs on its aircraft has slipped, the technology is still very much on the cards for Airbus. Speaking to Aviation Week, Mike Behm, Gentex director of business development, noted that the pandemic has only increased the demand for ‘smart’ surfaces. He commented,
“The demand for ‘smart’ surfaces, including dimmable surfaces for privacy or shading, is constantly increasing. We expect to see continued improvements to reliability and system design flexibility as material sciences continue to offer innovative new raw materials and substrates for constructing switchable and ‘smart’ surfaces.”
The latest 10Q filing from Gentex suggests Airbus will begin offering EDWs on the production line later this year. It reads,
“In January 2020, the Company announced that Airbus will also be offering the Company’s dimmable aircraft windows on its aircraft with production starting in late 2020.”
However, in the interview with Aviation Week, Behm pitched the introduction as 2021. Given all the challenges facing the planemaker right now, a slip to next year would not be unforgivable.
More interestingly, Behm noted that the aircraft for which the EDWs will be offered has not yet been confirmed. While early reports assumed it would just be the A350, perhaps Airbus could be contemplating the same technology for its smaller widebody, the A330neo.
For now, the technology might be ready, but Airbus is not, so we’ll just have to wait and see.