You can get from here to there, but how do you feel at the end?

Paris Air Show » 2007
June 13, 2007, 11:34 AM

By next year, the giant Airbus A380 will be transporting passengers around the globe on nonstop flights of as much as 8,000 nm.

A year later, rival Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner will take to the air, capable of flying nonstop between any two city pairs on the globe, also about 8,000 nm. That would be about 14 hours in the air, which begs the question, if they can take you from almost anywhere to there, how are you going to feel by the time you get to wherever there is?

With that in mind, the airlines and companies that design and create the seats are offering a wide range of innovative possibilities. Not to make you forget you’re
flying, but hopefully to make it as comfortable as possible.

At trade shows this year, seat designers and manufacturers have been pulling out all the stops, some not merely content to expand the envelope but preferring to toss it out and start fresh.

Several months ago, Premium Aircraft Interiors Group’s Contour division announced its new Venus first-class suite. Not merely a seat, mind you, but a suite. An optional sliding ottoman feature produces a guest seat, and a sidewall has sufficient space for a hanging wardrobe, albeit a limited one. A full-flat bed might be expected, but this one is a luxurious 3 feet 7 inches wide and extends to 6 feet 11 inches, sufficient for the average basketball player. For convenience, both the table and reading lamp are on sliding tracks.

The company also announced in April that five airlines have selected its new Aura business-class seat as standard on their Boeing 787 fleets. Reading lights are on flexible arms for easy positioning and a pocket partition can be pulled up to provide more privacy. The recline feature allows the airline to re-program the seat for a full-flat or angled bed, depending on the demands of seasonal routes. There is additional storage under the built-in footstool opposite the seat.

Perhaps the most innovative passenger seat design came from Premium in partnership with Acumen Design Associates. The coach-class arrangement has passengers in alternating front- and rear-facing seats. The design allows additional shoulder and seat width, as well as four more inches of legroom. According to Ben Bettell, business development director at Premium Aircraft Interiors, the Freedom seat can “show a gain of eight percent in passenger numbers and provide an additional two inches of pitch, or four additional inches of pitch while retaining the same number of passengers.”

EADS Sogerma of Rochefort, France, has its own contribution to improving the life of the business-class traveler with its Evolys seat. The reading light is on a flexible arm and the adjacent seat is separated by a privacy panel. Built into the seat is considerable room for storage, from literature to packages, a feature sorely lacking in past designs. Cup holders are built into the literature pocket assembly of each seat back.

Recaro of Schwaebisch, Germany, introduced its CL 3610 economy-class seat last spring as the first seat based on single-beam technology, and the first shipsets were delivered to launch customer Jet Airways of Mumbai, India, this spring. The company has also been contracted to provide the same seats for a fleet of Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. The single-beam carbon fiber composite technology allows more legroom.

In partnership with Lantal Textiles of Switzerland, Recaro also recently introduced a new version of its pneumatic cushion insert. The design allows passengers to adjust the firmness of the seat via the seat control panel. Passengers can vary the air pressure in the cushion independently of the lumbar support. Recaro offers it as an option of its CL 6510 full-flat seat in the first-class cabin. The company claims that after 4,000 hours of use the system continues to work properly.

B/E Aerospace recently introduced what it calls its Oasis luxury cabin environment, with a dining and work table that can accommodate two people. The lie-flat bed is 6 feet 8 inches long. Among the options in the cabin is a mini-bar. “It’s our ‘super first-class suite,’” said a spokesman, emphasizing that the company made an effort to incorporate amenities one might expect in their own homes. Variations of the Oasis have are already being delivered to several airlines.

Many aircraft interior designers today are borrowing freely from the automotive industry, which they feel is in many ways much more attuned to passenger comfort.
UK-based Design Q is one of these. Its new first-class airborne suite, created with Contour Premium Aircraft Seating for Cathy Pacific, makes the most of space. “It probably has the largest footprint of any first-class accommodation available today,” said Design Q director Howard Guy. Curvilinear design, a replicated wood finish and liberal use of silks and chenille contribute to a feeling of warmth. There is a small wardrobe and for entertainment, a plasma television monitor. A small, built-in ottoman offers room for a guest. Deliveries to Cathay Pacific have already begun.

With more and more long-haul routes, airlines have discovered that one way to stand out is by improving the level of comfort, and passengers are starting to recognize those that stand out from those whose priority is simply “getting there.” 

An Airborne Internet Café and a Bar

Among the new ideas for aircraft cabins is what Heath Tecna calls its Premium Business Module, “a comfortable and ergo-nomically practical booth” that would provide a high-speed Internet access work station. Built into the unit is a 19-inch monitor and inset keyboard. An Internet café in the air, if you will. Modular in design and offering a certain degree of privacy, it can be conveniently located for in-flight use by passengers.

“The airline can select options to manage the profitability of the booth, the most logical being a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system,” said marketing manager Cara Mills.

Meanwhile, Heath Tecna also has introduced what it is calling  a social zone, an environment defined by an attractive but functional self-serve bar. A recessed center section of the counter holds bottles in use and the upper rear panel features a 19-inch video screen. The main cabinet holds a refrigerator box, with storage area on both sides for glasses and snacks. Another storage container in the back of the unit holds additional bottles. The overhead canopy allows downwash lighting, and mood-lighting is available. According to the UK-based division of Premier Aircraft Interiors Group, the unit is available immediately.  

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