FE ATUR E H EAD
SUPPLIERS NEED TO GET
It’s fair to say that, during the 2010s, the aircraft interiors
industry as a whole did not exactly cover itself with glory
when it came to producing aircraft seats on time and on
spec, especially towards the pointy end of the aircraft.
The problems weren’t universal, but they were frequent
and widespread enough to be noticeable.
Business class products in particular are more
advanced in terms of technology and comfort than ever
before, and there are more and more seats needed to fill
the growing premium cabins on long-haul aircraft. At
the same time, the supplier base has contracted during
consolidation, and it is a rare business class seat maker
that has not experienced production quality and rate
problems in recent years.
One complication is consistency, which is admirable
as a rule: a similar passenger experience across the fleet
means that airlines can set clear expectations of what
travellers will experience, which leads to greater
satisfaction. Commonality in hardware also reduces
maintenance and parts costs.
But consistency means a big bang approach, and
often creates perverse incentives when it comes to design:
an airline may need to make a sub-optimal choice if a
product is on a greater number of its aircraft types, rather
than each of those types having a different product.
The essential problem is that airlines want products
that are unique to them, adapted to their brand,
at volume, quickly and inexpensively – and of
course it all has to be certified to
increasingly exacting standards.
Let’s call this combination of
uniqueness, volume, speed and cost
the ‘PaxEx Square’, a version of the
Iron Triangle where scope, cost
and time constrain the quality
of a product.
MARCH 2020 075
Governments could regulate reasonable
minimum seating sizes for average-sized
humans, given the industry’s aversion to
doing so. This sort of intervention is by no
means unthinkable: after all, no politician
is going to lose an election by supporting
passengers over an airline.
ABOVE: BOEING HAS
ENTERED INTO A JOINT
VENTURE WITH ADIENT
AEROSPACE. IN TURN,
ADIENT HAS ACQUIRED
LIFT BY ENCORE
BELOW: RECARO OFFERS
SEVERAL OPTIONS ON ITS
ECONOMY CLASS SEATS
THAT CAN ENHANCE THE
in terms of height and weight. The experience is
something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
There are three approaches to try to reduce the
unpleasantness. First, premium economy is now available
for those with the means to afford it. Second is the idea
that IFEC can distract people from the pain in their
knees and backs from sitting in a stress position. Third,
suppliers are designing and engineering the human
ergonomics of seats to be more comfortable, or at least
less uncomfortable, at a given pitch.
On the subject of ergonomics, from the passenger
standpoint, if airlines are going to put you in a seat with
a 29in pitch for several hours, you’d rather be in a seat
that can adjust to your body position while needing
Passenger aviation is worth the best part of a trillion
dollars a year, and we haven’t adequately explained why
the latest seats are better than the previous generation.
for the latest
FUTUR E V I SION