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Optimal Optima

The new Optima business class seat is a joint venture between Acumen Design Associates and Zodiac Aerospace. Ian Harbison reports

Ian Dryburgh, Founder and CEO of Acumen, points out that the new Optima seat is not a redesign of the United Polaris product (see box story), as development started before the company was selected by United Airlines to take part in the project. The seat had its origin in the revolutionary ‘herring-line’ concept he invented that combines alternate in-line and angled seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.


In the window rows, the in-line seat is next to and parallel with the sidewall, with two windows, while the angled seat, with one window, is separated from the sidewall by the side furniture and runs along the side of the in-line seat. In the centre of the cabin, the in-line seats nestle into the gap between the angled seats, which offers a 10-15% capacity increase over comparable ‘super business class’ products. This minimises redundant space and offers a lie-flat bed up to 82.5in long (more than typical first class); increased privacy and stowage; and full aisle access for every passenger.


For a typical premium cabin, the layout allows for the addition of an extra row of seats, compared to other lie-flat, all access products. Alternatively, the seat count can be kept the same as the current fleet and the additional space utilised to stretch the pitch by up to 8in, allowing airlines to offer first class bed lengths and side furniture. By keeping the same pitch and seat number, increased cabin stowage becomes available.


Dryburgh had such confidence in the potential of the layout that Acumen funded the development and patented the idea worldwide.


Alongside development of the layout, work began on a generic seat design that would fit the Airbus A330/A350 and Boeing 777/787 (see table), after changes to match aircraft size. Richard Nicholas, Senior Designer at Acumen, says the aim was to create a clean aesthetic that differentiates from other products while appealing to a wide range of passengers and airlines.


Re-emphasising the difference between Optima and United’s Polaris, Paul Wills, Head of Product Development at Zodiac Seats UK, says only the seat mounting structure and the actuation system are the same between the two seats. The United Polaris model meets the precise requirements of the airline while the Optima design differs slightly as part of the wider appeal. Only a few changes have been made following evaluation by a number of major carriers and extensive market research, conducted by Zodiac Aerospace. Perhaps another reason for these differences is that Acumen ran separate design teams for each project, thus ensuring each product had its own original creative input.


Among the differences are greater width at shoulder height on the centre seats and an 18in, rather than 16in, monitor. Access has been modified by altering the flare of the seat and taking away a little bit of the footwell, permitting egress in bed mode without having to reset the seat position. Access is also possible with the 19in x 11in tray table deployed. This stows under the monitor, which is compatible with all IFE systems. Nicholas says the design also took into account the viewing distance between the monitor and the passenger.


The Optima design allows for side furniture and additional table surfaces, stowage under the arm (headphones, amenity pack and laptop), under the ottoman (shoes and bags), and space for documents. A reading light is standard, while RGB lighting and surfaces are standard options.


While every seat in the cabin has good inherent privacy, passengers in the centre row who are travelling together have the option of increased sociability. There is an automated privacy screen between the seats that can be lowered. However, one element that makes Optima different to anything that has come before is that the inner arm rests can also be lowered to form a double bed. This collaboration realises Acumen and Zodiac Aerospace’s design aspirations of ‘ownership of space’ and ‘shared experiences’.


Many of the composite components can be customised to create an individual product to suit airline-specific requirements and styling preferences, which is helped by the use of sacrificial panels for improved maintainability.


James Beacham, Sales Director at Zodiac Seats UK, says the company is in serious discussions with a number of airlines and intends to get Airbus and Boeing approval as soon as possible.


The design is different enough from United Polaris that a separate certification process will be required and the first Optima seats can be expected to enter service in 1Q19.  

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