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Royal flush

Monarch Airlines has become the launch customer for the Pitch PF2000 fixed back lightweight seat. Ian Harbison speaks to the key players

Gary Doy, Director at Pitch Aircraft Seating Systems, says the company has been working for some time with both Monarch and with Intier Automotive, a division of Magna, in order to develop and modify the original design to meet the airline’s particular requirements. Doy is also co-owner at Design Q, a company that played a key role in the development of the original design.


The ergonomic shape of the moulded backrest, with its integrated foam and dress cover, offers reduced weight over more conventional aluminium construction techniques. This is due to the foam cushioning only having to be applied at points where support is required, whereas the traditional flat seat back requires additional foam to provide support, thus making it heavier.


The seat cushion sits directly on the seat’s support spar, with a layer of structural foam then a layer of comfort foam on top. The original design was actually launched two years ago (see Aircraft Cabin Management, April 2012), since then a lot of work has gone into modifying both the thickness and softness of the two layers to provide greater comfort – a process that continued during the Monarch flight trials.


In that time there have been two other significant changes to the design, both at the behest of Monarch. In recognition of the changes in passenger expectations, the top of the seat now features a tablet holder. While Pitch had one included in its portfolio, Doy says Monarch wanted a version that would be able to accommodate a variety of models and sizes. The other main change comes in the form of a bungee system in the bottom part of the seat. Instead of a conventional seat pocket, a 4mm elastic cord is threaded through six mounting holes in the side and bottom of the pocket and gathered together by a collector unit in the middle. This produces a mesh effect that offers a number of advantages. For the passenger, large items such as a sweater or water bottle can be safely stowed; although smaller items cannot be stored here as well, they can be put behind the tablet holder. For the cabin crew, the contents of the pocket are visible when the aircraft is being cleaned on turnaround, thus avoiding nasty surprises when rummaging in the bottom of a solid pocket.


With the changes required by the airline coupled with a determination to get it right, Doy says Pitch has been maintaining a low profile in the industry of late. The experience of working with the launch customer has highlighted some supply chain issues with subcontractors, as well as some improvements required to the production tooling. Fortunately, he says Pitch is in the position of being able to take advantage of both its partners. Design Q can quickly respond with any design modifications that might be required, while Magna’s automotive approach to production means its high quality tooling allows for a speedy increase in production rates, while maintaining consistent quality levels.


Pitch has not been invisible in the market, however, and more sales announcements are expected before the end of the year, with a ramp-up in deliveries in the first quarter of 2015. 


Tim Williamson, Director of Customer Experience and Marketing at Monarch, says the airline had been looking at new seats for some time. Passenger surveys wanted more comfort, greater legroom and, in relation to the ability to recline, it was a case of ‘do it properly or not at all’. The airline has a tradition of launching new products, so Pitch was selected in autumn last year with flight trials carried out over the winter on three Airbus A321 aircraft. This involved different seat pitches and cushion types on either side of the aisle, with cabin crew gathering passenger responses during the flight. One interesting finding was that a seat pitch of 33in was actually less desirable than one of 32in. This is because the Pitch seat design provides an improved living space equivalent to an increase in pitch of about 2in. As a result the passengers had to lean forward to access the tray table. However, modifying the cantilever movement of the tray would have required changes to the arms and the seat back, subsequently adding weight. Importantly, the 32in pitch seats are at the front of the aircraft and are marketed as having extra legroom for an additional charge. Using Pitch seats has increased the number of these seats from 48 to 60. The standard pitch at the rear is 28in, though this actually feels like 30in.


Williamson has been impressed with the in-service experience so far. The seats are noticeably robust, with very few maintenance issues, while the weight savings are showing the promised fuel burn reductions. The airline flies sectors of up to five hours – quite long for an A321  – so a flight to Egypt can now save 255kg of fuel, reducing CO2 emissions by 816kg.


Following the three trial aircraft, a further eight Airbus A321s will be converted by the end of summer. The work is being carried out by Monarch Aircraft Engineering at its Luton and Birmingham maintenance facilities, either during C checks, entry into service checks, or special visits for the seats to be fitted. Williamson says the rest of the fleet will have to wait for the winter season as no maintenance slots are currently available. However, it is also taking new aircraft from Airbus with the standard line fit economy seats, so these will remain in service for a while. 

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