Could Passenger Planes Ever Get Glass Ceilings?

The world has yet to see a passenger plane developed with clear glass ceilings, despite the obvious appeal this would have for travelers. Though the idea sounds very lucrative, no aircraft manufacturer has successfully designed such an aircraft for commercial flights.

emirates skylounge
Glass ceilings on commercial aircraft may become a reality one day. Photo: Emirates

The question is – could passenger planes ever take to the skies with glass ceilings? While it may not be on the horizon for commercial passenger planes just yet, luxury jet developers have already tried and tested such designs.

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Can planes even have glass ceilings?

Several structural obstacles make glass ceilings on passenger planes a difficult proposition. As a material, glass is both heavy and relatively weak, simultaneously weighing a plane down and offering little resistance to pressure. The structural weakness of glass also necessitates more structural framing, weighing the aircraft down even further.

Could Passenger Planes Ever Get Glass Ceilings?
Emirates humorously released their “SkyLounge” concept on April 1st, 2018. Photo: Emirates

Another issue is getting rid of the essential functionality ceilings provide in modern aircraft. Along with their use as overhead baggage space, plane ceilings containing critical wires, pipes and cables that keep the aircraft operational. Re-positioning these features would ultimately take up precious real-estate elsewhere on the plane and most likely reduce passenger seating numbers.

Other potential issues

Despite great strides in engineering and materials, including new glass composites and advanced CAD systems, glass is not a sturdy material capable of withstanding high pressure and tension. While glass works in small doses – for windows and cockpits – engineers have not been able to design entire glass ceilings for aircraft.

airbus-dimmable-windows
Dimming technology could be used to darken the cabin for sleep. Photo: Payton Chung via Flickr.

Glass ceilings will also prove problematic when darkening the cabin for sleep. Unless dimming technology is implemented, passengers will be exposed to sunlight far too often. Up in the skies, passengers are also susceptible to greater levels of UV-A radiation, amplified by proximity to the ozone layer.

How close are we to glass ceilings?

There are already several private aircraft designs incorporating forms of glass ceilings and panoramic concepts. In 2017, Airbus announced their ACJ319neo Infinito jet in collaboration with Italian carmaker Pagaini Automobili – a corporate jet built with clear ceilings.

However, prospects for the technology to thrive in commercial plane designs look minimal, primarily due to engineering constraints. The concept is considered so far off for aviation manufacturers that Emirates made a big April Fool’s joke of it in 2018 with their “SkyLounge” idea.

How to make glass ceilings a reality

Engineering knowledge must improve drastically if glass ceilings are to become a reality on commercial aircraft. Additionally, advancements in our understanding of materials will also be needed if suitable composites, both strong and light enough, can be synthesized for use.

Boeing 787 windows
The Boeing 787 has the largest windows on a commercial plane. Photo: Getty Images

What appears much more likely is the incorporation of larger windows into designs, rather than creating entire ceilings made of glass. Features such as viewing decks, glass pods and roof windows may allow airlines to offer novel flying experiences without compromising structural integrity. Newer aircraft designs are already increasing window sizes due to improvements in technology, so glass ceilings may well be on the horizon one day. Just not any time soon.

Would you feel safe flying on a plane with glass ceilings? How far off do you think aviation manufacturers are from creating glass ceilings on aircraft?

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