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Positive pitch

This year's Aircraft Interiors Expo proved to be a happy one for Gary Doy, CEO at Pitch Aircraft Seating Systems, as he was able to make two announcements: one for new customers and the other for a new production partner. Ian Harbison reports

This marked the start of a new and positive chapter for the company as it rolls out the PF3000 seat and reinforces its manufacturing foundations. Having worked through the challenges of its launch customer, Monarch Airlines, folding in 2017 and a move from its previous automotive based manufacturing partner, Magna, he says, Pitch has a bright future in a growing market. The PF3000 seat has been flying with Israeli low cost carrier, Israir, with excellent results since spring last year on three Airbus A320s and Pitch has been supporting new customers as lessors redeployed ex-Monarch aircraft to new operators with the Pitch seats still installed. The addition of some key industry experts to the board along with additional investment is a sign the company are committed to managing their growth carefully.


The new customers are leasing companies SAAL and Kiev-based aircraft manufacturer Antonov, for seats to be fitted to AN-148 and AN-158 aircraft. This is part of a programme to replace Russian equipment with Western equipment to enhance sales prospects. For SAAL, six aircraft shipsets will be delivered in mid-2020 for two airlines in Latin America. For Antonov, an initial three shipsets (with first delivery by late 2019/early 2020) are expected to be followed by a further nine aircraft over the next few years.


The Pitch product is squarely aimed at high density configurations of the Airbus A320 Family and Boeing 737. To support Antonov line fit some modifications are required as the seat rail separation is different. However, he says the redesign process is well under way, and there is enough margin in the design to easily pass HIC testing. The seats will have USB power, which was previously available but not taken up by customers. However, he expects to see an increase in demand as wifi becomes even more popular, as it is an obvious accompaniment.


The aircraft configuration for both models (the AN-148 has up to 92 seats, the AN-158 has up to 102 seats) is 3+2, with pitch varying between 28in and 30in throughout the aircraft. The centre tray in the triple unit is larger, providing more space if the seat is left empty in a premium cabin.


He says the Antonov deal has raised the company’s profile, and in conjunction with the low cost carriers’ move towards fixed back seats, there is not only renewed interest from the A320/737 market but also from operators and lessors of regional aircraft.


The PF3000 is designed to the latest safety standards and is certified to meet the full 16g dynamic and occupant injury requirements (C127b). The seat is currently flying on the Airbus A320 family.


The new production partner is Causeway Aero Group, based in Lisburn in Northern Ireland. There is a link between the two in that Michael Rice, CEO of Causeway Aero, is on the Pitch board and a personal equity holder in Pitch but there is no formal equity connection between the two companies.


Causeway provides turnkey cabin interiors and airframe structures solutions and works with many of the leading aerospace companies, such as Boeing, Bombardier, Collins Aerospace and GKN Aerospace. It has been making a number of acquisitions recently that will reinforce its position in the cabin sector. The most recent, in May 2019, was Race Completions, based in Bristol, UK, which brought EASA Part 21G approval to manufacture aircraft parts and appliances in conformity with approved data, and EASA Part 145, allowing Causeway to carry out maintenance and repair. Just a month earlier, Belfast Aircraft Stress Engineers (BASE) was acquired, bringing quality management, procurement, sub contract and assembly capabilities, as well as stress and technical engineering.


The company has just opened a new 1,860m² facility for seat production that is fully approved and now engaged in initial production of an A320 shipset for an undisclosed customer. Doy says the facility is being set up now for efficient volume production, including the introduction of sophisticated ERP software. The ambitious aim, in a year or so, is to achieve production rates of 10 to 15 A320 shipsets per month; so having a full capability early will avoid growing pains and if larger orders are received. He notes that the Pitch supply chain deliveries quite large subassemblies, so production time is short.


Causeway has also designed what it called a ‘novel galley build concept’ that reduces build cycle times and assembly costs and manufactures galleys and lavatories for other people. Doy’s other business, along with partner Howard Guy, is Design Q, so there may be an opportunity in the future to be able to bring together the various skill sets to offer single cabin solutions, initially for the retrofit market.





He says there are four factors to consider in making a comfortable airline seat. The first is the look of the thing – an attractive seat makes passengers anticipate being comfortable. Then there is the initial comfort level on sitting down, with soft fabric covers being best for the first contact. Then comes mid-term comfort, which he says is possibly the most important and is experienced after about two hours. He comments that the Antonov chief designer put Pitch seats in his office and recorded comments on comfort at the end of long meetings. The positive responses were part of the final decision making process.


One reason for the high comfort levels is that the PU foam of the cushion is contained within a structure of expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam. This patented design means the PU foam is protected by the more rigid EPP foam and does not become squashed over time by passenger pressure, making it lumpy and uncomfortable. That rigidity also means the cushion fits snugly into the seat pan, so rubbish cannot be fall into gaps, making cleaning easy, which is important for customers with quick turnaround times.

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