The many ways to add more aircraft seats

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Aircraft interiors experts have put on their thinking caps to consider more space saving initiatives now that Airbus intends to increase the maximum seat-count on its A320 to meet the seemingly insatiable desire of airlines for high-density seating.

Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier recently revealed that the airframer plans to ultimately raise seat-count from 180 to 189 seats, as originally reported by Flightglobal. The A320 is certified at 180 seats, but Bregier believes a 189-seater will prove particularly appealing to the low-cost sector. And aren’t nearly all airlines “low-cost” nowadays? Ahem.

Bombardier, of course, is in the same “frame” of mind, announcing last year that it will offer a 160-seat version of its CSeries CS300 by pitching slimline seats at 28 inches and adding a second pair of over-wing exit doors to clear certification hurdles. The Canadian airframer also recently announced it will launch an extra-capacity seating option for its Q400 turboprop “by converting the front right-hand side baggage door into an emergency exit door, eliminating the front baggage compartment and modifying the galley and wardrobe closet”, Aviation Week reported.

Certainly, Airbus could opt to take similar measures. Reducing galley space, and installing the new Airbus modular Smart-Lav could also make sense, particularly for customers like easyJet. But Airbus might be able to squeeze in an extra row if it pushes the bulkhead seats forward and installs airbags in the seat belts.

When conducting 16g testing of seats, a 5ft, 10in dummy is strapped into the seat, and “they arc the dummy and see where its head goes. If the head is within an inch of hitting the bulkhead it will pass, but an inch is the closest you can get. But now with airbags, you don’t arc at all, you stop. So that allows you to pitch the front row seats much closer to the bulkhead, and you could get an extra row of seats in the plane”, explains an interiors insider.

Delta Air Lines’ new Boeing 737-900ER aircraft, which feature B/E Aerospace’s new modular lavatory and Pinnacle economy-class seats, is understood to have been certified in this fashion. Delta yesterday announced it will retrofit 225 narrowbodies – its Boeing 757-200s, 737-800s, Airbus A319s and A320s – with a variety of new cabin features, including Pinnacle seats. At the same time, Delta is adding more rows of economy seats on more than 150 aircraft of these aircraft: three extra rows on the 757s and one extra on the Airbus. The carrier could not provide immediate comment on whether it is adding airbags at the bulkhead seats.

B/E Aerospace corporate VP strategy & marketing Paul-Ernest Cheron says, “As you know, we do not manufacture seat belts; this innovation has been brought to the market through business class and now expanded into the coach environment. And yet we do leverage [it] to expand the number of seats you can put in the restrained space you get in the environment.” He adds that airbags in seat belts simply let you “optimize the LOPAs [layout of passenger accommodations] in the coach environment”.

What about installing airbags on the actual bulkhead? Well, we know that Zodiac has designed an integrated airbag system installed directly into galleys – a first in aircraft galley history, according to the firm (see picture above).

Explaining the design, as part of its Crystal Cabin Award entry, Zodiac says, “The airbags act as an energy absorber for head impact for front row passengers. When airbags are installed in seat belts, certification must be completed every time seats are changed and airbags installed in seat belts are bulky and uncomfortable. When airbags are fully integrated into front row monuments (galleys), certification is only required one time.

“The airbag system can reduce the distance between the galley and front row seats by a minimum of four (4) inches. This space saving in combination with the other layout changes will allow additional pitch and potentially an additional seat row. Airlines are desirous of more space saving. Having a galley with integrated airbags allows the airlines to reach this ultimate goal of adding additional seats without compromising their passenger safety and comfort.”

Meanwhile, Airbus is also developing a new interior for the A320, complete with pivot overhead bin to accommodate more luggage. The design will starkly contrast to the A320’s current, dated interior, with its angular fixed overhead bins and segmented ceiling panels.

“The concept is brilliant. It’s the same as Zodiac’s ISIS, except the difference is ISIS is on prototype #20 versus Airbus’ prototype #1. Airbus will get there in time,” says a source with knowledge of the design.

Airbus declines to comment on where development now stands, with a spokesman saying, “Nothing has been launched and there is no timeline. I can only say what we’re doing or not doing.”

He adds, “Airbus is hard at work on lots and lots of things all the time but that is just part of business as usual. We’re always looking at things. We know what pivoting bins are. We have them on the A380 and have fixed bins on the A380, and one doesn’t replace the other; it depends on what the market needs and wants.”

A Zodiac executive could not be immediately reached for comment.

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