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Sitting target

Airlines aim to provide comfortable seats that offer operational flexibility as well. Mario Pierobon investigates

When a passenger purchases an airfare what they are actually doing is stipulating a contract with the air carrier to rent a seat for a given period of time. The passenger-seat relationship is one of the key dynamics in the air transport business and proactive air carriers ought to try to continuously improve this relationship. A comfortable and well-maintained seat can make a great difference in the overall flight experience. Coupling comfort with a profitable seating layout will always be a winning combination.


Aircraft seats are being constantly upgraded to improve both passenger comfort and the flexibility of air carriers when it comes to aircraft retrofitting. Aircraft cabins are continuously being retrofitted: these improvements include iterative retrofitting, the addition of more seats, and the gradual evolution of the typical three class (medium-to-long haul) and two class (short-to-medium haul) cabin layouts. 




“An important trend for low cost carriers is a shift towards high-density configurations for increased aircraft capacity to reduce unit costs. By using smart cabin layouts, slim seats and adjustable seat pitches unit cost advantages can be achieved and additional revenues can be generated. High-density modifications allow a fast return on investment,” notes Nina Schulz, Head of Product Sales (aircraft modifications) at Lufthansa Technik.


“The continuing trend towards higher density with more seats per aircraft is leading to smaller pitch and/or higher abreast configurations. The challenge is to increase passenger density by also increasing comfort and living space and, at the same time, meeting the demand for weight reduction without compromising on reliability and comfort,” says aircraft seat manufacturer Recaro. “Our company offers several seating solutions which master this challenge. Firstly, weighing less than 12kg, the Recaro CL3710 economy class seat for long-distance routes is one of the lightest products in its class – while providing passengers with maximum comfort. Recaro’s expertise in ergonomics has flowed into the development of this seat, and in fact, 18 patent applications were filed during product development. The gain in space for passengers is impressive: the CL3710 offers maximum knee and legroom.”


“In addition, the BL3530 short and medium haul seat enables efficient cabin seating with spacing between 28in to 34in, along with enhanced comfort for passengers thanks to the slim, space-saving backrest,” continues Recaro. “On top of this, at just 9kg per seat, the SL3510 is a real lightweight. The backrest angle is pre-defined for a relaxed sitting position, and the netting in the aluminium frame conforms to the shape of the passenger’s spine. Because its backrest is very slim, the SL3510 also offers significantly more legroom than comparable seat models.”




Another trend in the aircraft seat retrofitting market concerns version change modifications. “This means that the configuration allows the operator to easily switch between a larger business class for the winter season and a larger economy class during the summer season for an optimal utilisation during the different times of the year. Lufthansa started version change configurations for seats several years ago, but other operators have now started following the trend,” remarks Schulz. “This trend is an example for differentiation in terms of class concepts. We observe several attempts in respect to first and business class upgrades, as well as the introduction of Premium Economy on mid-to-long range aircraft and the recent introduction of a basic economy product to even further increase the unit cost advantage.” 


Indeed, airlines are eliminating first class from their intercontinental fleets and upgrading business class with first class features, with a premium economy section morphing into standard on long-distance flights. “All aisle access has evolved into the new industry standard. With the CL6710 business class seat for long haul flights, Recaro invites passengers to relax and enjoy a comfortable journey above the clouds,” says Recaro. “Furthermore, in the business class section, an embedded business class ‘Plus’ is gaining increasing popularity – with a few seats offering enhanced comfort features. For example, the Recaro CL6710 could be combined with individually-designed front row monuments providing extra living space, comfort and stowage opportunities.”


“With the PL3530, Recaro offers a premium economy seat for long haul routes, which provides a high level of comfort. The seat features a unique calf rest, which is highly adjustable in length and angle, automatically conforming to each passenger’s individual leg position,” says Recaro. “We are also seeing an evolving trend towards an even more differentiated product offering. Classic two or three class layouts are being replaced by a more finely shaded product offering – ranging from a spacious lounge seat to a no-frills, high-density product.”




The emphasis on connectivity in modern cabins expedites a trend in which airline passengers are making a very personalised use of their seating space on board. “Another trend is integrating seats, providing additional benefits for the customer like electrical power to passengers in combination with ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) mountings (combined with IFEC offerings), cup holders, footrests, more recline possibilities, enhanced cushions. The higher costs and complexity are covered by higher levels of passenger experience, especially important for legacy carriers seeking to leverage their cabin product above competitors,” says Schulz.


“Most airlines are enhancing their cabin offering with wifi and internet access. Our company offers various solutions enabling passengers to use their BYODs (tablets and smartphones) either as a substitute or a second screen for in-seat video systems,” says Recaro. >>

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