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Friday, 17 June 2011

Design space: The airline sea

Financial Times
June 15, 2011

  • Challenge: Create a lighter airline seat to help cut fuel costs
  • Product: Superlight seating
  • Agency: Factory design
  • Territory: Europe
Acro Aircraft, a British aerospace engineering start-up, wanted to launch a product that would offer significant savings to airlines and, therefore, give it a competitive edge. Weight is a big issue for economy carriers because it has a big effect on fuel consumption. So Acro planned to introduce a seat that was lighter than any other on the market for short-haul, single-aisle aircraft.

Standard seat backs are between 50mm and 100mm thick and are made of cushioning attached to a metal frame. Design agency Factorydesign was asked to reduce the seat’s weight without sacrificing structural integrity so that it would still comply with airworthiness regulations.

Airline seats are usually designed with these regulations as the starting point. But the Superlight design started with the passenger.

Factorydesign created a thin, contoured seat back shell that wraps over the metal frame, resulting in a 3mm-thick seat back. By giving it an ergonomic form, the seat back needs upholstery of only 3mm-5mm thickness, using a lightweight material called E-leather, to make it comfortable.

The armrest’s metal chassis was left exposed to become part of the aesthetic, which did away with the need for an armrest cover.

At 30kg per row of three seats, Superlight is the lightest seat in its class. According to Acro Aircraft, on a typical low-cost carrier’s aircraft, such as a Boeing 737, that could mean a weight saving of 950kg, which could equate to fuel savings of $150,000-$200,000 a year.


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