The development of a lower-deck passenger compartment in Airbus widebodies is bringing the airframer and Zodiac back together in cabin interiors, two years after a clash caused by Zodiac's delay and quality issues.

The joint project aims at offering carriers a variant of existing lower-deck mobile crew rest (LDMCR) compartments. The new lower-deck module would accommodate sleeping berths, a meeting room or a playground for kids. “The possibilities are endless,” says Christophe Bernardini, CEO of Zodiac Aerospace's Cabin Branch.

One module would measure 4 m (13.1 ft.) in width, 2.4 m in length and 1.55 m in height. An A330 – the first model Airbus and Zodiac will work on – could receive two or three modules, depending on the aircraft variant. An A350 could hold three or four.

The two companies choose to start with the A330 because of the greater number of in-service aircraft. Retrofits are the first target market. Many A330s have provisions for LDMCR modules, which means access from the cabin is already installed.

Airbus and Zodiac are looking for an A330 operator that would agree to fit a demonstrator into one of its aircraft next year. Flight testing would help answer questions on safety and comfort, particularly vibration. The option would then be added to Airbus' catalog of certified solutions in 2020. The lower-deck module would be interchangeable with a conventional cargo compartment in 1 hr. Its weight would be in the 1,300-1,750 lb. range.

The limited height is not seen as a show-stopper. It will be perceived only during a transient period when the passenger walks down from the passenger cabin, Airbus and Zodiac say. Several airlines are said to have expressed positive feedback after visiting a mockup in Toulouse.

Airbus emphasizes the lower-deck module would give airlines a new opportunity to differentiate. A carrier could sell an economy seat and the lower-deck berth as an option, potentially for a limited duration. The location and level of service would be distinct from business class, thus avoiding cannibalization.

“We will focus on sleeping berths first to help airlines monetize every square meter,” says an Airbus cabin specialist.

Asked about Airbus' trust in Zodiac after the problems that plagued the A350 in recent years, Geoff Pinner, head of Airbus Cabin & Cargo Program, answers that the new project “enhances [the two companies'] partnership in another direction.”