Comfort vs. Weight. The big seat debate in Aviation
The name of the game: Taking weight out of aircraft components
Aircraft seat manufacturers are under increasing pressure to produce ever-lighter economy class products. French newcomers Expliseat have risen to this challenge, and come up with the first aircraft seat composed largely from titanium. Expliseat’s chief of operations, Jean-Charles Samuelian, says that the new design, coming in at 4kg (9lb), is “twice as light as any other seat”. Whilst sceptics question the expense of using titanium, and the durability of the metal, Samuelian claims that the reduction in weight will result in annual fuel savings of between $300,000 and $500,000 per narrowbody.
Expliseat plans to prove sceptics wrong when launch partner Air Méditerranée takes off with the new product on board this summer. Samuelian claims that the simplicity of the design will streamline maintenance costs; the seat is comprised of only 30 components, compared to over 200 parts on competing economy class seats. He also pointed out that at less than 2inches (5cm) thick, passengers stand to gain an extra 2 – 3 inches of leg room! Samuelian insists that despite the slimline design, comfort has not been sacrificed. The back rest was more than 12 months in the make, designed to relieve vibration in the vertical column, and the final cushion and softness will be chosen by passengers as part of ongoing research.
The technology is patented and top secret, and Expliseat will not reveal how much titanium is used in the seats frame. Expliseat has been EASA certified as a seat designer, however, the new titanium design has yet to be fully certified. “It has officially passed all the tests and we’re expecting [EASA] certification to be finalised in the coming weeks,” says Samuelian. Once given the go ahead Air Méditerranée plans to install the seats in all 10 of their Airbus A321’s. One plane in time for the June launch, the rest will be fitted after the summer season.
Cost vs Innovation.
What the others say:
For established manufacturers it is more than a question of cost
Italian seat manufacturer Geven argue that the high cost of titanium as a raw material puts a design of there own on the back burner. But Dora De Chiara, the business development manager at Geven, also says that: “Whilst titanium represents a significant weight reduction, it’s not just a matter of it being expensive. Titanium is very brittle and tough to certify. We don’t know how reliable this material is going to be – that’s the big question now.”
German company Recaro Aircraft Seating has used titanium “for a few parts” in the CL3710, its newest long-range economy class seat. Chief Executive Mark Hiller says that the seat weighs less than 12kg and will start flying with a ‘yet to be named’ launch customer on board a Boeing 777 before the autumn. Hiller is careful about disclosing what proportion of the seat is made from titanium. He does reveal that it has been used in “some structural parts”, along with fibre reinforced plastic and aluminium alloys.
Recaro’s lightest short-range economy seat, coming in at 9.1kg per passenger fully loaded, is the SL3510. However, they have a designed a concept seat that weights 5.4kg. It was a study to see what was possible and they didn’t consider cost. They incorporated all the lightest materials available and this was the result. They believe that a 5kg seat is a feasible option for the future.
Spend now, save later
Expliseat’s Jean-Charles Samuelian believes that the savings outweigh the costs. The fuel savings once the seats are installed are significant. While he declines to say just how much more the titanium seat costs compared to their aluminium competitors; he does reveal that it’s a lot less than double the price! “We’re at the upper end but we’re not very different from the competition,” he says.
Airlines seem to be in agreement with this philosophy as Expliseat is in final discussions with more than 5 operators, with more than 30 others in the pipeline. The seats are only currently available for Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 but requests have already been made for long-haul aircraft.
Although no one can deny that taking weight out of products is the name of the game, Cameron Allen of UK based ACRO Aircraft Seating points out that passenger comfort is not something to be ignored: Passengers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and they know who has the best seats.”
The discussions over efficiency versus comfort, and bank balance versus passenger satisfaction will continue, and whether Expliseat has broken the mould remains to be seen. But titanium is on the radar, and the industry is not far off designing the perfect aircraft seat for all parties involved!