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Meeting the comfort challenge

While seats must, first and foremost, serve the passenger, they must also meet requirements of the airlines. Bernie Baldwin reports on the manufacturers’ design philosophies as well as some of their latest developments

If cabin crew (and arguably check-in staff) are the human interface of an airline with its passengers, then aircraft seats are surely the physical interface. And what passengers want is for them both to be welcoming, comforting and supportive for the duration of the flight.

Seats in economy class – which, despite what airline adverts might have you believe, is where the majority of passengers travel – have become much slimmer in recent years. Their manufacturers continue to seek ways via new materials and smarter design to remove even more weight, while maintaining comfort.

Alan McInnes, SVP Sales for Acro Aircraft Seating, says his company has led the way in providing “elegantly designed economy class seats” for the last 10 years. “Our seats are slimmer because we have removed any unnecessary layering of materials. More importantly, we have given the space saved back to the [passenger]. Space – not padding – delivers comfort,” he declares. “Of course, in removing layering we also remove unnecessary components and weight, delivering long term cost reduction for the airline.

“As we develop new seats, we evaluate new lightweight materials and the potential benefits that they offer in terms of comfort, durability, maintainability, weight and cost. Only after completing that evaluation can we consider the new material for our seats,” McInnes explains.

In a similar vein, Mirus Aircraft Seating’s Sales and Marketing Manager, James Woodhead, believes the key challenge is “to balance weight removal with comfort, durability and cost. Weight is not the only factor in determining the success of an aircraft seat,” he stresses.

For Gary Doy, Director of PITCH Aircraft Seating, there are always opportunities to reduce the weight of seats. “However,” he cautions, “we need to consider the other influencing factors in seat design that need to be balanced. Feature content, in-service reliability, maintenance, modularity and optimisation for the airframe, are some of the factors that also drive weight and cost.

“Working with the most common structural seat concept (legs, spars and hangers), a great deal has been done to optimise the weight,” Doy continues. “Like an Olympic athlete, we are focused on the marginal gains delivered by carefully analysing the design and finding smart solutions to reduce weight and challenging common place principles.

“The PITCH PF3000 does this with its fixed back seat solution, which offers weight reduction by optimising the seat back structure and the absence of a recline mechanism,” he notes. “Making one part do two jobs is also a core principle. On the PF3000, the rear tray table hinge is integrated into the seatback structural cross member, reducing weight and part count.”


Doy also agrees that new materials offer weight reduction opportunities. “Carbon fibre composite seat backs are now accepted as a viable alternative to the more traditional aluminium hoop frame. However, the weight savings need to take into account the complete system and material changes often need a very different design approach to realise the potential,” he emphasises. >>


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