This year at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, interiors providers opened up full bore on Airbus’ and Boeing’s widebody catalogues. With the delivery of the Airbus A350 XWB and the 787-9 in the last year, very real questions are being asked about whether or not catalogs are worth it for airlines or interiors providers.
While accepting his airline’s first 787 last year, Etihad chief commercial officer Peter Baumgardner said plainly that Boeing’s catalog was “not good enough” for the ambitious Abu Dhabi carrier. “This is not a good catalog. It’s not a catalog that allows us to do what we want to do.”
RGN sat down with Mark Hiller, chief executive officer at Recaro, fresh off a win of Airbus’ Gold Award for Best Performer for quality and performance among the airframer’s suppliers.
Speaking diplomatically, Hiller explained, “The catalog might give some advantages for the OEM or the airline. I think there are some benefits, but with our performance, we do not need it. On the other hand, it’s a lot of up front investment, without knowing if you’ll get an order for those products. I’m very much convinced about the SFE [supplier furnished equipment] approach for single aisle aircraft, and that’s the reason why we are … pushing this.”
During AIX Recaro was indeed already demonstrating an SFE product, the 3530Swift, based on its existing BL3530 A320 BFE (buyer furnished equipment) seat. “For single aisle aircraft, where complexity is lower, where the number of variants is less, and where the rate is higher, it’s exactly the right thing to do,” Hiller said.
Pressed for an overall perspective on the catalog for widebodies, Hiller — who, remember, runs Airbus’ award-winning best performance supplier — went no further than just “it’s okay”.
“In the end,” Hiller told RGN, “the most important thing is what the airlines want. That’s, for us, the driver. We see that some airlines like it, because they do not have resources or teams to select seats or interiors. For other airlines, they are very specialised, they have the team, they are very capable. For them, they do not want to have something out of the catalog, they want something specific.”
“As a seat supplier, we found that it’s just a waste of money,” Sam Ahad, vice-president product development at HAECO, said of his experience with catalogs. “I met with all the airlines. They like to have their own choice.”
“We invested millions of dollars to put it in the catalog,” Ahad says, pointing at Haeco’s premium economy seat (pictured at top). “Then recently, for example, this seat and Zodiac are the only people in the catalog for premium economy. And then they go and award it to somebody else. We invested millions of dollars of our own money trying to get a return, so from that point it’s a disaster for us.”
A theme at the Passenger Experience conference, held in Hamburg just before AIX, was aircraft flexibility and its inherent tension with the customisation required by carriers, be they LCCs or the world-class full service airlines, and in the context that aircraft lessors want standardised aircraft returned to them. From that point of view, a catalog for widebodies might well be advantageous to some airlines, particularly those without capital access or with a preference for relatively short leases.
Yet overall, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the industry may well be moving too quickly for the additional lag created by the cataloguing process. An undated Boeing guide to its catalog currently downloadable [PDF] from its dreamlinergallery.com supplier-audience microsite shows seats from Contour, Weber and SICMA, none of which exist any more.
Imagine an airline that ordered angled lie-flat seats when selecting its Dreamliners having to take delivery of them in 2015 after lie-flats are simply no longer competitive. That problem is partly due to the delays in delivering the Dreamliner, but partly in the fact that airlines need less time between an interiors decision and delivery, with the usual industry lead time no longer an option for most carriers, which want the seats, galleys, lavatories and IFE systems revealed at this year’s AIX, not those from 2010 — or even earlier.