From design to delivery: The Emirates A380 lounge story


In 2004, Emirates Airline selected Pierrejean Design Studio to study the forward upper-deck first-class bar area and aft business-class lounge on its 45 A380s. The resulting ‘horseshoe bar’ has become an iconic feature of the Emirates A380. Manufactured by AIM Aviation, it is testament to a process that integrates design with manufacture, aesthetics with engineering and vision with craftsmanship.

Taking a world-class aircraft interior from design to delivery is rarely straightforward. The main challenges are manifested in translating a design into something that works in terms of engineering, certification, manufacturing and fitness for purpose.

Design concepts

The specification released by Emirates included 41 preliminary design-concept sketch drawings created by Pierrejean Design Studio, a specialist in aircraft interior design.

In April 2004, AIM Aviation was formally requested to tender for the industrial design, development, manufacture and certification of the first-class bar – complete with water feature concept (pictured left) – and for the business-class lounge area. AIM Aviation submitted its response the same month. The space envelope and structures of the round bar, stowage and seating were well defined. The concept from Pierrejean Design Studio included a sofa at the back, a sliding, curved bench seat on the left and four bar stools.

However, the decorative materials were not defined. The brief simply stated that the business-class bar was to be designed to fit with standard ceilings, overhead bins and sidewalls, so extended seating could be installed if the lounge was not deemed a success in service.

Design evolution

Three revisions to the specification were made before July 2004, as the Pierrejean design concept evolved. Careful liaison was required between the technical experts at AIM Aviation and the design team regarding feasibility, detailed and decorative materials.

AIM Aviation was selected to manufacture these furnishings in September 2004. AIM Aviation and Pierrejean briefed Airbus on the concept and proposed means of execution of this outstandingly complex interior.

By October, the design was still evolving. AIM Aviation was asked to incorporate an air chilling unit and to develop the lighting and control system for 12 customised lighting features, to be controlled from a single flight attendant control panel. On-demand bar lighting scenes were required, including controlled kick-panel lighting, to reduce the need for dedicated CIDS channels. Having invented mood lighting for aircraft, AIM Aviation readily took up these challenges.


A review was held at Airbus’ own A380 mock-up centre in December 2004, at which Emirates decided to move the whole bar four inches forward and to dispense with the bar stools and rear sofa. The sofa on the left would be mirrored with another on the right. A new monument was specified to include two half-trolleys, central stowage, and a worktop and video monitor.

The mock-up stage

AIM Aviation decided to proceed using “design by full-scale mock-up”. Only when the mock-up had been approved would detailed engineering commence. In January 2005, AIM Aviation constructed a full-scale mock-up of the entire Door 3 upper-deck lounge area.

Pre-PDR reviews took place in April in the full-cabin mock-up, by now equipped with prototype space envelope replicas of all the proposed furniture. Prototypes of different water features for the first-class bar were presented and a decision was made to develop the “waterfall” version.


Having trawled the stonemasons of Italy, several alternative bar surfaces were mocked-up. Onyx Bianco was preferred, if it could be illuminated.

AIM Aviation worked on numerous stone thicknesses and lighting effects. Edge lighting produced a special effect as the stone’s natural fissures arrested the bleed of the light. Emirates selected edge-illuminated white Onyx for the round bar, display and work surfaces. Black Galaxy Granite with oval onyx inserts was chosen for the full-height bar monuments. AIM Aviation’s lighting system was enhanced to include work-surface illumination. The Amazon Teak wood veneer finish master-samples were signed off during Aircraft Interiors Expo 2005 in Hamburg, Germany.


The first shipset was installed in the first A380 delivered to Emirates Airline in January 2008, by which time AIM Aviation had four additional ship-sets completed.

The bar was an instant success. As a result, plans for future cabin configurations were changed and every Emirates A380 now has a business-class lounge and bar, which has become the signature design feature for the airline. AIM Aviation is currently building the 51st set of the bar and lounge furniture.

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