Are windowless planes the future of travel?

Emirates' new cabins, which the company calls "game-changing" in a statement, are first-class private suites, complete with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors and high-tech features.

DUBAI — Could you drop off to sleep in a windowless plane?

It might sound like a claustrophobic’s nightmare, but a new design from Dubai-based airline Emirates plans to remove windows from aircraft.

Instead of real-life views of clouds and sky, passengers will peer out of “virtual windows,” enjoying projected views of the world passing by.

Window to the world

Emirates’ new cabins, which the company calls “game-changing” in a statement, are first-class private suites, complete with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors and high-tech features.

The “windows” use real-time fibre-optic camera technology to provide virtual views of the outside world.

Since the designs were unveiled, the airline’s choice to abandon windows has been a conversation starter in the aviation world.

Not everyone is convinced by the idea of windowless aircraft.

“Some futuristic concepts show windowless aircraft and, while there may be some structural benefits from getting rid of the windows, there is also another line of thought that says the opposite: having some point of communication with the outside improves the passenger experience,” Victor Carlioz, co-founder of California-based design studio ACLA Studio, told CNN earlier this year.

Saj Ahmad, Chief Analyst at StrategicAero Research, points to the practical issues posed by a windowless airplane.

“Windowless airplanes would be great in an ideal world from an engineering standpoint — however, in reality, it won’t happen for a number of reasons.

“For starters, in the event of an emergency, cabin crew often need to look out for reference points to coordinate evacuations. Having visual as well as spatial awareness is vital and in a windowless jet, they don’t exist — especially if there is an electrical fault which then means that the “electric” windows do not work and you can’t see outside.”

Ahmad also echoes Carlioz’s concerns about passenger comfort.

“Passengers simply do love the natural view outside — and as good as technology is, you can’t beat what the naked eye sees,” he tells CNN.

Ahmad also posits a move towards windowless planes would involve new regulation and testing.

“There are also regulatory issues too — the level of change involved would certainly require new tests relating to system redundancy, evacuation, fire suppression as well as pressurization and other stress-related engineering changes.”

Other alternatives

Other futuristic aircraft design are going the opposite way and embracing larger windows.

Boeing’s Dreamliner — its most modern clean sheet design — features large windows. Airbus has also designed a cabin with transparent walls, presented at the 2011 Paris Air Show.

Embraer has devised the Kyoto cabin, designed for its Lineage 1000E aircraft, which features large panoramic windows running along the majority of the lateral walls of the cabin.

There could also be a move towards pilotless planes in the future — but Ahmad applies his skepticism about windowless planes to drone-flown planes too:

“The idea [of windowless planes] is possible — that doesn’t mean it will happen,” says Ahmad. “The same applies with drone technology — but that doesn’t mean that tomorrow we’re suddenly going to see all freighter airplanes being flown without pilots.”