You have probably read a lot about the recent developments of LED lighting in aircraft cabins because they are a perfect fit with airplane requirements… reliable, low power, lightweight system requirements, tons of colors, virtually no heat, and now many suppliers. As you might imagine, there is a technology development on the scene that will also provide some of the many features of LED’s with some improvements and future potential positive impacts on airplane cabin lighting – Organic Light Emitting Diodes, or OLEDS. Before we get into what they are and how they work, lets look at what the fuss is all about based on the relative light output (based in Lumens Per Watt) and how they stack up today with other sources of lighting all commercial available:

LIGHTING TYPE (Lumens Per Watt)
Incandescent (filament) 20 LPW
Compact Fluorescent 65 LPW
LED 100 – 150 LPW
Linear Fluorescent 100 LPW

Obviously the OLED developments have evolved in the last few years but compared to LED’s they are on a fast track. For example, the first red LED’s came along in 1962 so we have had some 50 years of development in LED research, design, fabrication, and worldwide sales. Kodak discovered organic polymer glow phenomenon but it wasn’t until 1987 that the Given that the first OLED in 1990. Some say this is another “Edison” moment! And since we have introduced the device, here is a technical description of what we are talking about from Wikipedia:

“An OLED (organic light-emitting diode) is a light-emitting diode (LED) in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compound which emits light in response to an electric current. This layer of organic semiconductor is situated between two electrodes. Generally, at least one of these electrodes is transparent. OLEDs are used to create digital displays in devices such as television screens, computer monitors, portable systems such as mobile phones, handheld games consoles and PDAs. A major area of research is the development of white OLED devices for use in solid-state lighting applications.”

All this technical talk can be a bit over the top, so our simpler definition goes like this: If you can imagine a LED device as a two bonded, doped, dissimilar materials that give off photons of light when a voltage is applied and a current flows across their junction. The OLED works in a similar diode-like way, but when the photons are given off at the junction, they are radiated through a couple of layers of organic materials… the layer(s) luminesce and light is emitted. The layers being organic in nature, facilitate a fabrication that is more like a surface of light rather than a point source of light such as LEDs. Panels versus point sources – can you see the advantages of this technology? How about lighted ceiling panels, personal colored touch switch controls, and OLED video screens? Not only will there a reduction in needed power for light output (coming soon) but the thin devices (credit card thin) put out less heat.

LED Technology


OLED Technology

To produce multiple colors, various organic layers are added with smart switches in the devices to turn them on and off, thus they become video display capable and aircraft will start seeing their application in IFE systems soon. Weight, color and quality are the plus signs; price will no doubt be the negative factor. OLED Displays deliver better ‘black’ colors, images have vivid color and are sharper… not to mention, the on-off characteristics are faster – great for motion video; however, they will just cost more.

As we mentioned, there is a real effort in aviation to include this technology, both in commercial (R&D) and in business aviation (product development and sales). The folks at Flight Display Systems, who are on a lot of cutting edges of inflight technology, started offering cabin IFE controls for the entertainment systems. Further, David Gray, President of Flight Display Systems told IFExpress: “OLED technology allows a fantastic viewing angle, extreme resolution, and low power. All this is in a very small package. The future looks bright for applications that are curved and tight fitting for older technologies. For example I have a Samsung S-4 phone with a 5″ full 1080P OLED display. This quality will become the standard going forward.”

Furthermore, all this lighting technology is not lost on the commercial airline R&D folks. Universal Display has been awarded a $225,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Under the program, titled “Novel Energy-Saving Phosphorescent OLED Lighting Products,” Universal Display will partner with and subcontract IDD Aerospace/Zodiac Lighting Solutions to evaluate and demonstrate the potential for energy- efficient and cost-effective white OLED lighting panels for aircraft interiors. IFExpress talked to IDD about their development shelf lighting project and Beth de Young, General Manager at IDD Aerospace/Zodiac Lighting Solutions noted: “Through our partnership with Universal Display, we aim to contribute to a disruptive shift in the adoption of OLED lighting by providing a compelling early entry product. The data generated by developing this shelf utility light may be applied to larger-scale OLED lighting aircraft projects, including cabin applications for interior furniture, galley, interior structure enhancements, as well as other potential adoptions in cabin accent, task, ceiling and sidewall lighting, and sign backlighting.” Our readers should stay tuned to OLED breakthroughs for aircraft usage… LED’s and OLED’s are the stuff of future passenger cabin experience.

We should note that Phosphorescent Organic Light Emitting Diodes (PHOLED’s) are another source of potential lighting for future aircraft cabin lighting applications and by their nature can act as sheets of light in applications requiring flat, thin, lighted surfaces. As on might guess, the phosphorescence is a result of similar electrical phenomena and use organic materials that “glow”. Because of their high efficiency, we expect to see them in applications such as personal lighting first and later (as prices drop and manufacturing capability increase) as broader sources of white and colored lighting. There is a bright future for this technology and this is exactly why IFExpress is staying tuned.