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Doing more with less

Making passengers feel they have their own space is important, but airlines want to be able to change layouts and to turn less fuel. All challenges for seat manufacturers, says Kerry Reals

Creating a feeling of more space at a shorter pitch, providing airlines with the flexibility to reconfigure their cabins, and achieving further weight reductions. These are the three key themes that occupy aircraft seat manufacturers.

New materials are enabling seat-makers to do such things as reduce the depth of cushioning masking the loss of inches between passengers’ knees and the row in front, as they continue to innovate and come up with clever ways of maintaining comfort whilst reducing legroom.

Germany’s ZIM Flugsitz, for instance, built a single-arm meal table into the centre of its ZIM Unique seat to provide more legroom at either side.

According to Fabian Zimmermann, the son of ZIM’s founders and an Assistant to the management team, putting the arm of the meal table in the centre enabled the manufacturer to “reduce the backrest structure and reshape it so we could have more room”.

The result is that the seat can be pitched at 28in without losing space, giving the same feeling as a seat pitched at 30in, Zimmermann says. In addition, ZIM’s use of carbon fibre in the backrest means it could lose some of the space taken up by seat cushions.

“The carbon fibre is soft itself, which allowed us to reduce the seat cushion,” he notes. “Airlines want to put in more and more seats, so we need to reduce the seat distance without losing living space.

“But passengers will not allow us to reduce comfort, so we try to find new solutions like with the backrest, where the cushion is smaller but it doesn’t feel it,” says Zimmermann.

SWISS International Air Lines debuted the ZIM Unique seat on its Bombardier CSeries CS100 aircraft, and earlier this year took delivery of the first CS300 equipped with the seat. However, SWISS opted to pitch the seat at 30in, to give its short-haul passengers more space.

ZIM developed the seat especially for SWISS but says it can be customised to other airlines’ requirements. The SWISS seats feature a chrome strip, which surrounds the top and sides of the backrest and appears to exist purely for aesthetic reasons.


Zimmermann says the strip gives a clean, modern feel, although he admits that it can be “quite hard to clean off fingerprints”.

“Other customers could have it [the chrome band], but they haven’t requested it yet,” says Zimmermann.

The ZIM Unique seat is aimed at the domestic and short-haul markets, and does not include embedded screens for in-flight entertainment. However, the manufacturer has developed a long-haul economy-class seat with the same backrest structure as the ZIM Unique, but with the option of adding seatback IFE.

This new-generation seat, says Zimmermann, is “where we see our future”.

The Markdorf-based manufacturer is also redesigning its premium economy-class seat to include a fixed back shell. It will launch the seat at next year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

“There is no interruption. The recline doesn’t impact the passenger behind,” Zimmermann is quick to reassure.

Another manufacturer doing more with less is France’s Expliseat – creator of a titanium seat which it describes as the world’s lightest aircraft seat. The TiSeat E1 weighs in at just 4kg in a three-seat configuration for Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft, or 5kg in a two-seat format for ATR models. The seat has made its way into the ATR catalogue, and customers include Cebu Pacific and Air Tahiti.

Expliseat has also developed a seat for longer flights, the TiSeat E2, which weighs 5kg. Company Chief Executive Officer, Benjamin Saada, says he hopes to deliver the first E2 in 2018.

“The E2 was designed for longer flight times, so we added 3D cushioning to bring more ergonomic support and to give more support on the shoulder. Other features are the same [as the E1] but bigger,” says Saada.

As costly titanium is a major component of the lightweight seat, it comes with a higher price tag than competing models. While Saada does not disclose the cost of the seat, he says that “for most of our customers payback on the seats happens in less than 12 months”. This payback is not limited to fuel savings but also relates to factors such as more passengers, range and cargo opportunities.

Saada says he sees more and more airlines going for a 28in pitch, which requires manufacturers to reduce the thickness of the backrest. Doing this can add one more inch of legroom, which begs the question: will airlines move to a 27in pitch? Saada says that while “our seat is compatible for 27in, we haven’t had a request for that yet”.

Expliseat’s ethos is centred around three key areas: weight, space and comfort, as Saada explains: “I strongly believe the weight of the seat can still be reduced, and we’re still very focused on space. We think space is an important feature to offer the passenger. The third line of our innovative approach is comfort, and we’re working on the cushion and vibration.” >>


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