New Ottawa air travel research centre billed as international first

The National Research Council is expecting its new $12-million Ottawa facility will take advantage of the industry's scramble to gain a competitive edge by improving the travel experience.

National Research Council betting facility will make money in its first year

Among the labs at the new Centre for Air Travel Research is model airplane where companies can test new seat technology, air ventilation systems and lighting. (CBC)

What if an airplane seat could monitor your biometric information to help lower your anxiety?

What if technology could eliminate long airport lineups? Or reduce the vibrations and noises on the plane itself?

Those sorts of potential innovations, designed to enhance the passenger experience, fall under the mandate of at Ottawa's new Centre for Air Travel Research — which is being billed as the first of its kind in the world

NRC facility simulates full air travel experience

5 years ago
Duration 0:28
Viresh Wickramasinghe of the National Research Council showed reporters the NRC's new Centre for Air Travel Research.

With the number of air passengers expected to double in the next decade, Canada's National Research Council (NRC) is expecting the $12-million facility, which officially launched Thursday, will take advantage of the industry's scramble to gain a competitive edge by improving the travel experience. 

"There was definitely something missing in terms of how we address passenger comfort," said Eric Lefebvre, business strategic advisor for the NRC, about the motivation for building the facility.

The NRC estimates the centre will cost $600,000 to operate each year, while bringing in annual revenue of about $1 million from clients around the globe looking for somewhere to test their latest innovations.

One of the many research labs at the new Centre for Air Travel Research includes a fuselage designed to help airlines improve the air passenger experience. (CBC)

Provides industry a 'realistic experience'

Some 70 industry players sent envoys to check out the new facility, which backs onto the Ottawa International Airport, at its opening.

The centre features everything from a mock check-in desk to a fully adjustable airplane fuselage, where volunteer passengers have access to a working lavatory and seating that measures biometric information — all monitored from a control room.

The labs are created to give a "realistic experience" without leaving the ground, Lefebvre said. Manufacturers can test variables like air temperature, lighting, and the impact of vibration.

Lefebvre said the industry's current preoccupations include comfort on long-haul flights, clearing terminal lineups, and speeding up deplaning. There's also an increasing interest in catering to the comfort, health and safety of a growing number of older travellers, he added.

Even before Thursday's official opening, airplane manufacturing giant Airbus had already booked the facility's labs.

A tour of the new $12 million Centre for Air Travel Research, based in Ottawa. The National Research Council hopes industry -- from airplane manufacturers to airlines to terminal operators -- take advantage of the research lab facilities examining the air passenger experience. (CBC)

It's about the experience

Airports and airlines want to up their game by focusing their energy on improving the experience of flying rather than the size and power of the plane, said Karl Moore, an air industry analyst with the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.

The public investment, he added, speaks to the growing importance of the air travel industry and its impact on tourism.

"If you can increase that positive experience in Canadian airports and on Canadian flights, it's going to make people come back and say 'Wonderful — you gotta go!" said Moore.

An Ottawa 'hub'

Lefebvre said Ottawa was picked for the facility in part because of its proximity to other NRC research facilities, including its Flight Research Lab. 

He said the NRC is working with businesses from Hawkesbury to Gatineau already involved in related fields, in the hopes of creating a "hub" of expertise in the Ottawa region. 

All the earnings will be reinvested back into the facility, according to NRC president Iain Stewart at a media tour this week. 

"Its a way that [lets us] sustain our operations," said Stewart. "We're hoping future generations of contracts will allow us to add additional features to this lab."