The future of airline seating

Last updated 05:00 09/11/2009

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Passengers want more room, airlines want more seats. Kay O'Sullivan finds designs that might satisfy everyone.

Design Q is a British firm with an impressive track record in aircraft interior design. The company was responsible for Virgin Atlantic's much-vaunted Upper Class suite and, more recently, it was involved in the overhaul of all three classes for Cathay Pacific.

Now, Design Q is spruiking the benefits of what it is calling the MaxCabin, a radical configuration mirroring the face-to-face seating used on military planes.

Basically, Design Q has replaced conventional seat rows with inward-facing seats on either side of the aircraft, plus two back-to-back rows down the middle.

While the look may take some getting used to, there are plenty of examples of this configuration working, says Design Q's founder and chief designer, Howard Guy.

"Seating sideways is common on other types of transport, buses, trains and even VIP jets," he says.

The big plus for airlines looking to cut costs in a period of declining passenger numbers and profitability is that the MaxCabin will be cheaper to build and to operate, says Guy.

He estimates it will seat 50 per cent more passengers and reduce costs by 30 per cent. The benefits for passengers are faster and safer boarding and exit.

The main drawback, however, is obvious from images of the prototype. The comfort level is low and even the designer is warning the MaxCabin is intended for short-haul flights up to a maximum of 80 minutes. And it will be a strictly BYO experience as there is not enough room for a trolley to move along the aisles.

Design Q will run a series of tests on the prototype in Britain next month.

Further afield, there are a growing number of innovative designers eyeing off the only unused area on wide-bodied planes, the overhead space.

Several of the concepts presented at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg earlier this year make use of a second storey. Most presentations centred on the premium classes and the majority incorporated ladders to access the top tier.

One exception was the Boston-based firm, Jacob Innovations LLC.

The company's Emile Jacob says economy-class passengers will benefit most from his design, which elevates alternate seats in economy by the height of a conventional step. This increases leg space and the angle of seats, two of the most important factors governing passenger comfort.

"The 45-degree recline together with the footrest make the difference between the ability to sleep or not for most people," he says.

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Passenger comfort levels are improved, but there is no loss of capacity across the economy cabin with the step system, Jacob says.

Indeed, Jacob's business-class model, which creates a second storey of seats - again using steps for access - has the potential to double the capacity of conventional business-class design and afford more privacy.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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