I mean, yeah, there is still a long way to go until it’s safe again to fly. But as the economy starts ramping up all over the world, Airbus has been busy proposing a potential alternative to those grimy in-flight paper magazines—a digital magazine made from a flexible OLED.
Airbus has patented an idea for a digital OLED magazine that displays the magazine contents you’d normally get on a paper magazine, except they’re more resilient, and easier to update and sanitise. The screen would be paired with the mandatory in-flight safety card—but all the entertainment, information and shopping options would be on the OLED screen.
Getting rid of in-flight magazines is already an initiative that’s being done by airlines. Finnair announced that it has decided to get rid of them to lessen weight and cut down on carbon emissions. And local budget airlines like AirAsia have already replaced it by going digital.
The digital screens are also lightweight, and having something that can be updated in real time can help you choose items and meals on-board easier as they can be updated in real-time. Airlines would be able to regularly change their magazine’s content or personalise it to the route—or even the passenger.
OLED screens boast richer colours and better screen quality than LCD screens. They also use less energy than traditional screens, and are usually less than 3 mm thick—making them pretty flexible like in the pictures shown.
However, some of these newer digital solutions can come with their own problems. Flight attendants would need to serve as technical support for passengers’ various devices—on top of all of their other critical duties.
Airbus signed a memorandum of understanding with Royole Technology in 2018 to explore the concept. Royole has been producing “flexible displays, folding smartphones and flexible sensors”, and the company worked with the airline to develop the OLED magazine concept.
As it’s just a concept for now, Airbus says it is not available commercially just yet. However, they are planning to install it onto a test aircraft “soon”. It may not be practical with “the new normal” when everyone should be going contactless as much as possible.
Additionally, providing OLED magazines for every seat would be a costly affair, and there’s also a concern about durability since flexible devices are more fragile. It would probably be more practical to offer higher quality in-flight entertainment screens with Full HD resolution. Flexible digital magazines would be more challenging to sanitise versus the fixed screens attached behind every seat.
Since most people have smartphones, it would be better for airlines to provide complimentary WiFi and free access content on their own device.