Dream weaver (Part II)

Earlier this year I shared Part I of my conversation with Klaus Brauer.

Klaus, Boeing’s long-time “guru” on aircraft interiors, retired from Boeing in 2009 after a 30-year career with us.

Following a very busy several months I finally have the opportunity this week to bring you Part II of our conversation.

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Klaus Brauer with a model of the “7E7” - which became the 787 Dreamliner.

One of the fascinating things about Klaus is that he holds U.S. and international patents for the mathematical processes of optimizing seating configurations on commercial airplanes and relating to the design and use of premium seating.

His patented “Total Personal Space” model is in use by many airlines today.

Klaus is a self-professed “nerd,” with degrees from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

His career also happened to include service as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, with nearly four years of that service attached to the Belgian Air Force - where he earned the rank of captain.

Here’s the second part of my conversation with Klaus Brauer:

In terms of innovation, what’s been the biggest surprise to you, of something that came into the interior of an aircraft that was either a really big hit, or just flopped? Something that just surprised you one way or another.

It’s the 787 architecture, that family of architectures. And it just goes back to the process, discovering psychologically what you were trying to make happen. We hadn’t thought about things in those terms before.

We’d thought, “This is a room, let’s make it look big, let’s make it nifty.” But we’d always thought of it as just a room. We’d never though before about what we want to do for the passenger. And then that evolved all the way to some extraordinary lighting that makes it click.

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787 entryway and lighting - part of the new interior “architecture.”

I think whether it’s the interior or any other part of the 787, it’s an airplane that is truly greater than the sum of its parts, in every way. Whether it’s the interior or the performance of the airplane, I don’t think any one piece can explain the market success that the airplane has had.

I don’t want to claim that the interior is responsible for all this success. But, I will tell you, taking customers into the mockup - they get it. It’s quite amazing to watch the reaction of people when they go in there. And now the 737.

When I first walked into the 787 mockup I couldn’t believe it could get any better. And I don’t want to say it is better, but I couldn’t believe what you guys did with the 747-8. Taking that palette and then being able to take some of the some concepts into the 737.

I was recently thinking about all the innovation that we’ve done as a company in our products over the years, and it’s pretty impressive.

And I looked at Airbus and I thought, they copy us a lot, but they really haven’t done anything interesting since they put in fly-by-wire on an A320 and went to a side stick.

I may be wrong, but what do you think separates Boeing and the competition?

I think what separates us now is, we have worked with Teague for more than 60 years now.

Teague has a commitment to us that is unlike anyone’s commitment to Airbus. They’ve been with us so long that they fully understand the manufacturing issues and those of the industry, such as certification.

I’ve seen so often designers from outside the industry approach a customer with, “Here’s a new product concept.” And the initial sketches are gorgeous, but by the time you get to reality, it just doesn’t happen.

And that’s a huge advantage we have, architecting spaces inside airplanes - that is not a skill you gain anywhere else.

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Klaus Brauer, sharing his passion for airplane interiors.

Airbus hasn’t had a long relationship such as ours with Teague and that’s a disadvantage to them, and they’ve been very frank with me about that. The other thing is, I mentioned the psychological research on the 787.

Airbus has not taken on a similar kind of research. They use some more traditional methods and I think that’s led them to do, well, good, but more traditional industrial design approaches to these spaces, and not enlightened in the same way.

I see them watching what we’ve done. But it’s the funniest thing, that unless you really understand what’s down at the bottom of the research, you don’t get it right.

A good example of that is if you take a look at the upper deck of the A380. I mean, somebody took a photograph of a 777 and compared it and it looks like they tried to take that and just scale it a bit different.

I would say it’s of the same design family, yes.

So Klaus, turning to the future of our industry, what’s next?

I think the best answer is in the Next-Generation 737 now. Our best body of knowledge is what we’ve revealed in the “Boeing Sky Interior” for the 737. It’s the best we know.

We had a whole new bank of insights that led to the 787, 747-8 and new 737 interiors. Boeing Sky Interiors as a group, as I call them. We haven’t had an awakening to a whole new sense of the world. Maybe we never will.

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What’s next: the 737 Boeing Sky Interior - in a 2-class configuration.

But the next new thing? It’s really in the product mix of airlines. Business class now costs four, sometimes five times as much as economy fares.

Business travel demand is dropping. It’s expensive, economies aren’t so great right now. But even before the recent economic crisis, we had a majority of business travelers traveling in economy class! And now still more. That’s bad for everybody.

We have business travelers dropping back to a product that is simply not appropriate for them. At the same time the airlines are losing a huge amount of revenue.

And so there’s an ever more urgent need for a product between the two, and it’s generally called premium economy class or some branded name. We’ve seen lots of requests from airlines for studies.

While there are premium economy classes out there now, they’re all over the map in terms of number of seats per airplane, fraction of cabin size, fare surcharge, and in terms of precisely what the product is in terms of its width.

So my recent analytical passion has been to really study the heck out of that. I saw my retirement coming so it was a great time to look at how am I going to analyze this thing. So I published a paper on it. [Follow the link and flip to page 40.]

Finally, Klaus, is there any place that stands out to you as the perfect trip? You’re retiring, but I know you’re not going to stop traveling.

Let me tell a story. At the 787 rollout we had a customer event at the Museum of Flight, and along the stairs there were flight attendants stationed, and as you walked up the stairs they were saying “hello”, “g’day mate”, or whatever their native greeting was.

I was walking up and I heard a woman’s voice say “teanastëllën” which is “hello” in Amharic, the Ethiopian language. And it just stopped me in my tracks. I turned on a dime, went over and gave her the biggest hug.

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On the red carpet at the 787 Premiere, greeting a flight attendant from Ethiopian Airlines.

I love the Ethiopians. Ethiopian Airlines was one of my first customers back in the early 80s. I had just wonderful experiences working there.

The landscape is magnificent and the food is exquisite, but the real thing is the people. Their intelligence, self awareness and grace in difficult circumstances made an indelible impression on me. I was just undone to be greeted in Amharic again!

What a great story. And what a fun chat that was!

By the way, in case you’re wondering, as Klaus Brauer retired, he left a strong airplane interiors group in place, including Ken Price, Kent Craver, and Colleen Rainbolt, as well as Blake Emery, who Klaus mentioned in the first part of our discussion. Klaus’s legacy is certainly in great hands.

Klaus confirms that he’s not going to stop traveling - or working. He half-jokingly pointed out that he has school tuition for his children to deal with, and he might be looking into consulting work!

Before Klaus packed up his Boeing office, he left some parting thoughts in an email to colleagues.

He said there’s “greatness in this company’s genes,” and as he put it, “those genes of greatness make everything possible.”

Thank you for those inspiring words, Klaus, and the very best of everything to you on your new journey in life.

Comments (11)

Misty (Chesapeake, VA):

Interesting shift in the paradigm and not one I had previously considered. I suppose I have always assumed that airplane design always accounted for passenger comfort as how could it ever be the other way around.

However I believe that this is reflective of business in this day and age. It seems that airline manufacturers and airlines have been dealing with serious issues since 9/11, so that shift is badly needed. Between the economy, fuels prices, security issues, and so on, I am amazed that the airline industry is not doing as badly as I would have expected. In my opinion, its this new focus that is saving it.

Thank you for posting this. I found it VERY interesting!

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

The new innovative cabin interiors that Klaus Brauer has designed look futuristic and comfortable for a long flight. The use of contoured lines and angles in the interior and the use of blue LED lights makes the cabin look and feel like no other cabin in the sky today.

Freddy Hagens (Everett, WA):

Interesting comment by Klaus about the long Teague relationship with Boeing. I recall an experience I had at Embraer on a VIP aircraft project as he pointed out where the design consultants had these wild interior ideas which in the end had to be discarded for aircraft use based on certification or other practical reasons. One example was a sunroof by the entryway.

Barun Majumdar (Seattle, WA, USA):

Congrats to Klaus for his phenomenal, inspirtational technology leadership in the realm of interior design. Great legacy of an innovator like Klaus will continue to inspire the new generation of scientists and engineers across the enterprise.

I've passionately read through the technical article titled "Mind the Gap". It concluded with the statement "Ingenuity. Redefine the passenger experience." I'm inclined a couple of sentences from his excellent article as "Empty seats per row in premium economy than in tourist economy provides the additional width valued by passengers." and "...higher seat count of the 3-2-3 configuration resulted in consistently generating significantly more revenues than 2-4-2."

Optimizing no. of seats per row apart from revolutionizing overall architecture of interior design of 787 Dreamliner is Klaus's greatest contribution The Boeing Company.

Randy, it's an excellent time to bring forth this chapter II - innovative chats/inputs with Klaus.

Donna Routt (Everett, Wash.):

Totally amazing. The future of interiors is not only innovative, but truely inspirational. And sets our company apart from any other aircraft manufacturer.

I am truly proud to be a part of this company for the last 30 years!!

Grace Feng Hsu (Krikland, WA):

Congratulations! Klaus! For your innovations! I am an inventor myself more in the Finishing area. It is fun to be an inventor. I am retired from Boeing. But now, I am applying to come back to work for Boeing again.

When I read this article, I feel even more confidence that Boeing will be back to the number one airplane company in the world again.

Now, I know why the success of Boeing 787 maiden flight is foreshadowing the success of Boeing 787. The success of Boeing 787 is foreshadowing the success of the Boeing Company.

I am very excited for Boeing! Randy! Thank you for the many nice articles!

Wilson Richards (San Diego California USA):

That was one great interview with Klaus. I learned a lot with all his answers. He deserved to be one of best aviators in his time and one of the best!

The success of Boeing is in some way credited to him due to the undying dedication that he showed to the company's growth.

Thanks Randy for this great article.

TC (Mt. Vernon, WA):

Psychologically I have never liked asymetrical seating, like 2x3. I read with interest the comments on premium economy from the linked article p.40, also see p.122. I wonder if premium economy on the 767 at 2x2x2 with 36" pitch could be profitable.

Here is an aircraft which ended the tube-like interior, Boeing 747 Classic Cabin Schemes, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pECyaYUUns

Beck Nader (Belo Horizonte, Brazil):

It always strikes me when I see that the most ingenious people tend to be simple and humble.

This was really a joy to read!

Cheers,

Beck

RobLL (Western Washington):

Is this the guy who figured out how to make the seats and service in the back of the plane enough of an ordeal so that people will pay 10 times (and even more) to fly in the front of the plane? If so, not one of my heroes.

Tony Reynolds (Boeing CEC, Renton, WA, USA):

Randy, great article and what a great read on not only Klaus and Boeing, but the commercial aviation industry as well.

Those of us who've had the pleasure to work with Klaus, Blake and many other great people at Boeing count ourselves blessed.

Walter Dorwin Teague would be proud of what we've achieved together. What a team!

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