Dream weaver

In my 28 years at Boeing, I’ve met some truly remarkable people who have changed our industry. Some of them you know, such as Joe Sutter.

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Boeing’s Klaus Brauer.

Others have spent their entire careers working behind the scenes or in very specialized areas. One of those people is my friend and colleague Klaus Brauer.

In 2009, Klaus retired after 30 years at Boeing.

He is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on airplane interiors and passenger comfort. His official title at Boeing was “Director – Passenger Satisfaction and Revenue.”

But Klaus would always be glad to explain to you that what he did was develop concepts and tools to help airlines become profitable. Those tools also guided Boeing’s product development efforts.

Before Klaus packed up his offices here at our Commercial Airplanes offices in Renton, we took some time to sit down and talk. Here’s “part one” of our conversation:

Klaus, you brought science to something that maybe had been seen as an “art” before. Is that fair to say?

I think that’s true. The origins go back to the 767 vs. A310 days.

I remember that well.

We were making these claims that the 767 is clearly superior because it has more window and aisle seats. Well, that makes intuitive sense. But as it happened I was going through some of our surveys and I said, “Wait a minute we’ve got all the data we need to model this.” And we’ve been able to design airplanes using the resulting models.

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Klaus - in earlier days - on the go in Beijing.

I thought of you because I was reading this book called The Last Templar. There was a line in it that went something like, “I got on the airplane, I could hear the door close, and how relieved I was because there was an empty seat next to me!”

Yeah, it’s still the biggest discriminator in passenger satisfaction. And you know what the revelation for me was? It’s not just that people like having empty seats next to them. It’s that row arrangements dramatically influence the probability of having an empty seat next to you. Now, the response of the traditionalists to this discovery was, “Boeing thinks comfort is a matter of luck.”

My point is, no, I want to make you lucky. And frankly by converting from 2-5-2 to 3-3-3 we made people lucky. As a result of the change to 3-3-3, millions more passengers have been seated next to an empty seat than would have in exactly the same load factor circumstances in a traditional arrangement.

Airbus embraced the traditional view, and its 2-4-2 arrangement is one of the worst in terms of seating passengers next to empty seats.

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A view of the “lucky” Boeing 3-3-3 cross section in the 787 Dreamliner.

And you know what’s interesting, too, is that with the A350, Airbus has changed their design philosophy. They started to talk about width at seated eye level, and perception of interior space.

You look at the A350 cross section. Frankly, it’s one of the ones that we considered for the 787. As I read the tea leaves looking at what they’ve done, they’ve basically gone far enough to get a kind of “inclusive-tour,” a very tight tourist configuration into the airplane at 10-abreast.

But we decided we shouldn’t go for that particular cross section for the 787 because it imposed significant added weight and drag on the airplane and as a result, higher fuel consumption, all that bad stuff. The inclusive-tour market was shrinking and people were growing. So we decided not to penalize the 98% of customers who wanted what we’ve offered, with a cross section optimized for the other 2%.

And I don’t think they’re getting any value with that cross section. I remember the conversation was, we were kind of plus or minus 3 inches. And of course they’re what, six inches wider?

We had the mathematical models in place to really analyze it. It was the first time we’d had that capability in the development of a cross section. And I still feel really good about what we chose instead.

What do you think about the 737 Boeing Sky Interior?

It’s my last new interior. It’s outstanding, really incredible. You know it’s funny, I think I’ve developed an eye for interiors and architecture and one of the things I’ve learned, one of the things I know about myself now, is I can’t tell from drawings. I can’t tell from a photograph.

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The 737 Boeing Sky Interior.

It’s interesting because we’ve used photographs with some of our executives and sometimes you’ll get, “I can’t see a difference.”

It’s true. You often can’t “get it” just from a photograph. It’s also true that you can be easily fooled by a photograph. I’ve worked with some of the best industrial designers on the planet and there’s always a point where they say, “We’ve got to mock it up.” So we’ve developed this capability to do very rapid mockups.

There were two really telling examples of this recently. When we did the 747-8 passenger interior, there was much I could extrapolate from the 787. But the door 2 area, I knew I couldn’t tell if there was enough loft in the ceiling - from just the drawings. Because when we see something in real 3-D our eyes and brains are amazing at “decomposing” it and re-assembling it in the brain to make it all proportional. Our eyes and brains simply can’t do that with a 2-D image.

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747-8 Intercontinental: Seeing the door 2 mockup was a revelation.

I’ll never forget when I first saw the loft of the door 2 ceiling for the 747-8. I knew what day the guys would be installing the ceiling panels over the door 2 area of the mockup, and I went over after they’d shut down for the night. Most of the lights were off. There were just a few safety lights on, like “ghost” lights in a theater. The front end of the mockup wasn’t built yet so just I walked into the gaping end of the mockup and back to door 2.

There was no one there to see the big smile that came to my face. It was gorgeous. The ghost lights were all I needed to see that the designers from Teague had nailed it.

Made a couple of tweaks, but it’s spectacular.

And the 737, it’s the same way. I went into the half-finished mockup and could see how beautifully the Boeing Sky Interior works in the 737. Frankly, it really exceeded my expectations, which were pretty high to begin with.

Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which have you enjoyed the most? I know that’s a hard question. And this is not, “This is Your Life, Klaus Brauer!”

Wow. Can I do two?

Yes, there are no rules. This is blogging!

I’ve had the “nerd’s joy” of discovering some insights into making passengers more comfortable and airlines more profitable. And I had the great joy of working with and taking inspiration from many brilliant and dedicated people within Boeing and our partner, Teague.

I think there’s no question that the whole 787 creative process was extraordinary. From the kinds of research that I’d never been involved in before, all of Blake Emery’s psychological research, a discipline I’d had no familiarity with, to really being deeply involved with industrial design. Again, a discipline which is not something I was trained in.

So you actually got a chance to look at the back end, and the front end of the process?

And it was great because I’d been out in the front end for so long listening to customers and trying to understand their requirements. You’ve got everything they’ve been telling you for years and an understanding of their problems. But then we enhanced it with insights from the flying public.

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Klaus (l) and colleague Blake Emery in the Dreamliner mockup in Renton.

You know, our airline customers, God love ‘em, they’re in a tough, rapidly evolving business. To survive, the bulk of their focus must be on the short and medium term. They can’t afford to spend too much of their energies looking out 20 years. And I think it’s our job to look out that far. We owe it to our customers to keep an eye out that far in the future. And so the kinds of methodologies we were using, you shouldn’t expect an airline to do that for us, that’s our job.

And I think we did an extraordinary job with the research. And the team itself was just so broad, between the interior industrial designers at Teague and our own interior engineers at our concept center.

It took a lot of guts. It took a helluva salesmanship job to get Boeing to spend money that way.

And it’s a continuing process. And it’s delivering for Boeing. You develop things and hand them off and they’re matured somewhere else. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, that’s a product of the 787 program, or that’s a product of the 777 program,” when these things actually all had their genesis in the Boeing Concept Center. So all that, for anyone’s career, is a super highlight.

The second highlight is, being still a nerd at heart, I’m really happy with the revenue model that I developed, which we call “Whitefish.” The team wanted a fun name for it. Whitefish is ..

It’s a nice town near Kalispell, Montana near where I grew up.

Ha-ha. Well the true story is, yes, I came up with this during a family ski vacation in Whitefish, Montana. I had wanted to do a model that quantified the change in revenue that’s caused by a change in the passenger product.

The change could be, you increase the legroom, you decrease the legroom, you make the seats wider, you make them narrower, or maybe you change the class mix, have a few more business class seats and correspondingly fewer economy class seats. Any of those sorts of things.

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Speaking of cabin altitude: Klaus and family at Mt. Rainier.

We can even factor in some things that we were seeing from research for the 787. For instance, some passengers get screaming headaches from cabin altitude. How can we reduce that and what’s the impact of that? So I came up with an analytical model that represents a passenger decision process to the point where you get changes in demand. It represents the different fare buckets, as we call them. It replicates the configuration of an airplane and emulates the airline’s revenue management system, and everything gets pulled in.

So I worked all this on my laptop watching the snow come down from a cabin in Whitefish. It works very well and it has proven far more adaptable than I’d imagined in those snowy days in Montana. As far as I know, no one had ever done this, to the same extent, from product change to revenue change. And Boeing uses it now in talking with customers, and in product development efforts.

I even use it when I’m talking about 747-8. I can look at two markets with similar airplane configurations and different demand and say, “Hey, you can make more money than an A380 can.”

What’s been fun is, I’m a real believer that things need to be transparent. Whitefish allows you to look at every equation and track the numbers right through. When you get a surprise, good or bad, you can see what’s happening in the model, and ask yourself if you believe it.

The surprises almost always come because so many things were interacting that your intuition just couldn’t keep track of them all. When you can walk through the interactions in the equations you usually end up saying, “Oh, that does make sense.”

At the time of his retirement, Klaus pointed out that he’d been with Boeing through good times and bad times. As he put it, “Keep the faith. We have extraordinary people and a magnificent product line.”

Encouraging words.

I’ll share a bit more of my conversation with Klaus later, including some thoughts on what makes Boeing stand out in terms of innovation in airplane interiors, and Klaus’ view on what’s coming next for our industry.

Comments (13)

Chris C (South Africa):

This is a truly excellent, and interesting, article indeed. I enjoyed the remark about the 767’s interior being “clearly superior” to that of the A310s’, as the 767 had more window and aisle seats.

I remember writing about this in an article that was published online: In terms of passenger cabin comfort and flexibility, Boeing claimed that the 767’s cabin width was ideally suited for the passenger market. “The 767 body was designed to cater to the people market, rather than the freighter market,” said Boeing engineer Jack Steiner at the time, pointing to the 767’s unique 7-abreast seating cross-section arrangement in economy.

This new cross-section philosophy on the 767 meant that the airplane had to be more than 80% full before the middle-row centre seats had to be occupied. These seats are famous for being heavily un-popular with passengers due to the need to “push-past” passengers to get to and from the centre seat. Therefore, the 767 offered the preferred cabin arrangement over the A310 according to Boeing.

And speaking of interior innovation on commercial jetliners, I remember reading an interesting article a few years back highlighting the need to address cabin “issues” for people of older ages and limited abilities. Engineers would wear “Third Age Suits” (developed by the Ford Motor Company) that allows them to experience the limitations felt by many older individuals, and helped Boeing identify the need for better colour contrasts in the cabin (particularly for personal in-flight cabin controls), over-head bin operations, etc. Teague was also involved in this study.

These tests, conducted on local flights with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Airlines, certainly helped Boeing design more user-friendly, market preferred airplane interiors.

James (Honolulu):

A very interesting post. A layman like myself would strictly be interested in legroom and (lack of) kneeroom. That there's more to interior design never came to mind. Thanks to the TSA I hate the airport experience, but hopefully I can one day fly aboard the 787 and see what interior design is really all about.

Ed (San Diego):

This was an incredible and enlightening article. I had no idea that designing airplane interiors had come down to a science.

Speaking of "tweaks" in the 747-8i interior, has the design been finalized for the side panels and windows? A lot of us in the blogosphere were wondering if the gentle giant will actually have the rounded windows and beautifully sculpted "frames" that are seen in the current virtual walk through video.

I think that design gives a much more open feeling than the old-style 747-400 windows and side walls which appear in the most current mock up.

Perhaps this was an engineering issue and it couldn't be done? Let's hope not.

Maybe Mr. Brauer has one more in him and can truly deliver a brand new kind of 747 experience before he retires.

Best wishes to him and his family.

Beck Nader (Belo Horizonte; Brazil):

Congratulations to your article and interview Randy. This is amazing. This is really a very nice and important subject that connects the flying public to the airplanes.

It is not difficult to perceive that the absence of a professional like Klaus with all his experience and "feelings for the science" will be highly missed.

Perhaps Boeing should keep him as a consultant :).

Barun Majumdar (Seattle, WA, USA) (Seattle, WA, USA):

An encouraging and upbeat story on innovation, indeed! Thanks Randy for bringing the great architect Klaus Bauer into the limelight after his retirement in 2009. I guess the revolutionary idea of passenger comfort and a high probability of having an empty passenger seat is confirmed by statistics and maybe Pauli's famous uncertainty principle as well.

We are embarked as pioneers upon a new science and industry in which are problems are so new and unusual that it behooves no one to dismiss any novel idea with the statement that 'it can't be done!'"
-- William E. Boeing, founder, The Boeing Company

Barun Majumdar (Seattle, WA, USA):

An increase in passenger load factor would lower the likelihood of having an empty passenger seat on board.

Still, the seasonal variation in passenger load factor (say, 0.6 to 0.9) would provide a seasonal variation in the statistical probability of having empty passenger seats. Apparently, the stat department may help to create a statistical model on likelihood of having empty seats based on data from airliners.

Ostensibly, the 3-3-3 passenger seat arrangement is a revolutionary idea built in the passenger aircraft. Hats off to Klaus Bauer! A true visionary, indeed!

Danny Yau (Renton, WA):

Thanks for sharing - we truly have amazing people working for The Boeing Company.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

The 3x3x3 configuration works very good especially when sitting on the middle row of seats it looks less cluttered and cramped, if you have been on a on a DC-10, L-1011 or a 777 with 5 middle seats, this makes a world of difference.

I think Airbus got the idea after they saw the 787 interior and found out about the width in which soon their after they have widened the A350 to fit the 3x3x3 configuration as a standard economy configuration.

The 737's new interior and the 747-8's interior looks very good, the LED lights modernize the the inside decor of the aircraft, until now I have seen LED lights only on Airbus Aircraft.

Great interview and my best regards to Klaus for a great 30 years.

Fedor (Moscow, Russia):

Russian Il-96 has had 3x3x3 configuration since 1978. See please http://www.airliners.net/photo/Pulkovo-Airlines-(Rossiya/Ilyushin-Il-86/1299486/L/

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Great read! Thanks!

Muhammad (Castelginest, France):


I guess it must be pretty tough for this guy to leave after 30 years, considering that at the time Boeing was "ruling" the industry, and now Airbus plays equal.
Who should be held responsible for this change?

Jun Leido (Manila, Philippines):

Congratulations on a new chapter in your life Klaus!!!

I have never met you in person - hope I will - but after reading this blog, I feel, that after flying so many times in different Boeing jets, and absolutely loving my time INSIDE these planes, I feel I have made a connection with you; that, as a passenger, I benefited from all your work.

I think you have a counterpart at Airbus, who would also work hard in delivering airplane solutions that made sense - and money - for its customers. I am sure this competition has resulted on both companies bringing to market different airplanes, which all together benefit the flying customers.

Airbus has a view of the world, as you guys too. Though you will most likely be different, the common denominator is the good airplanes that has come from both companies.

Richard Mahoney (Everett, Washington):

Great article on Klaus - Im sure he will appreciate it - however, what you failed to mention is that had has 16 patents on aircraft interior and seat planning methods:

D606,923 Interior archway for an aircraft
7,516,919 Aircraft archway architecture
7,469,860 Aircraft archway architecture
7,448,574 Aircraft archway architecture
7,331,545 Aircraft archway
7,293,739 Aircraft archway
7,252,267 Aircraft archway architecture
7,156,345 Modular overhead stowage bin systems and associated methods
D533,129 Overhead storage bin for an airplane
D516,496 Ceiling panel for an airplane
D512,954 Ceiling panel for an airplane
D508,173 Corner table for an airplane
6,874,731 Modular overhead stowage bin systems and associated methods
6,822,812 Off-angle display systems and associated methods of manufacture and use
6,000,659 Fully reclinable, pivotable airplane passenger sleeper seat assemblies
5,611,503 Optimal airplane passenger seating configurations and methods therefor

Bon Voyage Klaus ..well see you back with your contractor badge when retirement becomes unbearable .. : )


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Hi Richard,

Actually we plan to mention this in Part II! But thanks for the details.

-- Randy Tinseth

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