Singapore CNN  — 

Given the terrifyingly airline seat patents filed in recent years, the future of flying often looks bleak. But the Singapore Airshow in February 2016 injects hope for an aviation world that we can actually look forward to.

The biggest airshow in Asia in 2016 put emphasis on emerging technologies, with forums and a whole exhibition zone dedicated to the topic.

We asked the industry experts in attendance what we can look forward to over the next few years. Here are five big changes headed our way:

Destination: Singapore

1. 3D printed planes?

More than 1,000 pieces of this plane is made by 3D printer.

Airbus’s development of the A350 struggled to keep pace with deadlines in its early days. To fix the problem, it turned to 3D printing. More than 1,000 parts of the A350 are now made by 3D printing – more than on any other commercial aircraft.

That’s a trend that’s going to keep on growing.

“First it’ll be the spare parts on an airplane that require replacement from time to time, like handles,” says Ido Eylon, general manager of Stratasys in Southern Asia and Pacific. “It’s already happening but on a smaller scale. We’ll expect more interests from other sectors as well.”

In addition to noncritical plane parts, tools used in aviation manufacturing can also be printed.

“By 3D printing, it significantly reduces the complexity to make some of the parts and save cost and time,” says Eylon.

It also saves weight. Parts created by 3D printing are 30-55% lighter and use 90% less raw materials than those made by traditional methods.

Can we 3D print a whole plane? Still a wild dream at the moment, says Eylon.

2. Multitasking inflight entertainment

Now attention spans can be stretched in the air as well as at home.

Seatback screen or tablet?

“Both,” says Giaime Porcu, media relations officer of for aviation technology firm Thales. “It’s like when you’re at home, you’ll turn on the TV, at the same time work on your laptop and play with your smartphone.”

And Thales’ new inflight entertainment system AVANT accommodates the habit. The gadget is controlled by an Avii, a smartphone-like remote with intuitive navigation, which will mainly be adopted in premium cabins.

It acts as a second screen, allowing users to do things like browse the ratings of other movies while watching one on the main monitor. Personal smartphones can be synced with the system.

Movies can be browsed and bookmarked ahead of boarding, while an unfinished movie can be saved and effortlessly picked up from the same place on the next flight, preserving every vital movie-watching second.

Singapore Airlines has just signed up to the system and the carrier’s new A350XWBs will be installed with AVANT in 2018. The deal also includes a new touch-screen system in economy class cabin – the world’s lightest seatback monitor – and Ka-band – currently the fastest inflight Internet.

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3. Eye control

What Thales didn’t bring to the show – but warned us to watch out for – was its eye-tracking technology. The next-gen inflight entertainment system is targeted at business or first class passengers whose seat monitors may not be at arm’s length. Instead, monitors will be controlled by eye movements.

As a passenger looks away – say when the flight attendant comes to pour a glass of champagne, the screen will automatically stop the movie. It resumes when you the passenger sits back and stares at the screen again. We can expect to see the technology in five to seven years, according to Thales.

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4. Morphing apps

An all-in-one app for everything flying related.

Turns out we’ve been carrying excess digital baggage. Developers are now working on adaptable apps that change according a user’s location and need.

“You don’t want want 20 different airport apps on your phone, you want it to morph into a different app when you go to a different airport,” says Ilya Gutlin, Asia Pacific president of aerospace information technology company SITA.

Unlike most current airport apps based around static layout maps, the all-in-one version would use Bluetooth beacons to filter information before sending it to users at the right time. It could transform check-in processes and be used to track luggage.

“If your baggage is lost, your app will be able to tell – and you don’t have to wait to find out at the baggage carousel,” Gutlin adds.

Miami International airport recently became the first to install beacons feeding data including walk-to-gate times, details of nearby food outlets and updates on baggage collection.

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5. Pilots trained by virtual reality headset

Is this the answer for pilot shortage?

The world is in dire need of more pilots, but one Singapore-based engineering company says it has a solution. Singapore Technologies Engineering used the airshow to debut a new virtual reality headset for pilot training.

By wearing the goggles, students will be immersed in a virtual cockpit environment. They’ll then be instructed step by step on aircraft operations, using a side stick controller or by motion sensors.

The new technology can ease current constraints on space and mobility in training – the theory is that pilots can be trained wherever there’s a headset and a laptop, reducing the need for a full simulation room. It’s also claimed that it will cut the cost of training as the system can easily be reconfigured to different plane models and requires fewer instructors.

This article was originally published in February 2016.