Investment in economy class is vital
April 17 2019 07:10 PM
Alex Macheras
Alex Macheras

By Alex Macheras

For most airlines, investment in cabin products (such as new seats) tends to only occur in premium cabins. For example, Singapore Airlines recently invested heavily in brand new A380 Suites and Business Class cabins, and Emirates also upgraded its First and Business Class offerings.

With this in mind, if there’s an area of the aircraft that consistently lacks investment and new products, it’s the most popular cabin class on the world’s airlines — Economy. The reason for this is that the vast majority of an airline’s revenue per flight comes from the minority of passengers on the aircraft — those seated in a premium cabin, such as Business Class.

However, Qatar Airways has unveiled a brand new Economy Class seat, which will debut on the A321neo later this year and eventually be fitted to all (current and future) wide-body aircraft in the Qatar Airways fleet, but likely not on the Airbus A380 — the first of which will be removed from the fleet in 2024, and replaced by the Boeing 777X.

The new seat model is ‘Quadra’ by Italian aircraft seating manufacturer ‘Optimares’.

Prior to its entry into the seating market, the seat was tested in an Airbus A380 mockup, and then refined multiple times. The Italian company state that their market research suggests passengers perceive that the ‘Quadra’ seat provides approximately 35% more space than traditional recliner seats.

The main attractiveness of the seat model (which caught the attention of Qatar Airways) is a patented mechanism that enables a passenger to have a greater recline than traditional seats, without intruding on the personal space of the passenger behind.

It means the seat frame itself never actually reclines back, but instead, a linked mechanism moves both the seat pan and the pivot centre of the backrest — reclining the seat 19 degrees and thus increasing personal space.

As with most aircraft interiors, a lot of customisation has taken place in order to create the final product Qatar Airways unveiled today.

Each seat is fitted with a large 13.3 inch 4K screen — an impressively high-resolution monitor, but only truly valuable if the viewing content is of the same high quality.

In addition, Qatar has opted for a USB Type C port, which enables high-speed charging for electronic devices.

A standard feature of Optimare’s Quadra seat is a sliding meal table (bi-fold) — but the company also offer an added option of an additional cocktail table, which Qatar Airways has opted for in the creation of its new Economy seat.

It means passengers are able to have a drink held securely by the cut-out in the cocktail table, making it significantly easier to leave the seat whilst a drink is present.

In other areas of customisation, the new seat includes a wrap-around headrest — a far better design headrest than passengers would have experienced onboard Qatar’s A380 and 787 Economy Class seats — whereby the headrest is so large, many passengers tend to try to avoid using it altogether.

In terms of seat width and pitch dimensions, the Quadra seat’s minimum width is 18 inches, and while such width is already ‘standard’ for most Airbus jets, the same cannot be said for Boeing aircraft (which often feature seats with a width of 17 inches, such as the 787 Dreamliner).

For seat pitch, it’s not up to the seat manufacturer, Optimares to decide… it’s in the hands of the airline. The seat pitch for Qatar’s new Economy Class seat is expected to be set at around 31 inches, reflecting a similar pitch to today’s existing Economy seat across the Qatari carriers’ short, and long-haul fleet.

Also launching with the new Economy Class seat will be the addition of Live TV streaming, a first for Qatar Airways — but an inflight entertainment feature that has long-existed at several airlines worldwide, including at some Gulf airlines.

The A321neo and A321LR will be the first jets to fly with the new seats, and these aircraft will be deployed on several routes across the Qatar Airways network. Not only will these jets replace older A320 family aircraft in the fleet, but they’ll also take on some routes currently served by the A330.

GCEO of Qatar Airways, HE Akbar al-Baker exclusively told me: “On these aircraft, we will go to Phuket in low season, also to Krabi, and new destinations to Africa which are thin, intercontinental routes. We could also go to new destinations in Europe where the destination does not really have the volume for a wide-body aircraft.”

Airbus’ A321LR is the largest and heaviest member of the A320neo family, and has range capabilities of over 4,000 nautical miles based on seating capacity of 206 seats.

My thoughts? At last, investment in Economy Class. While this new seat will be introduced at a steady pace (al-Baker expects all long-haul aircraft to have the new Economy Class seats within five to eight years), the first jet equipped with the new hard product will arrive later this year, upon delivery of the first A321neo.

Optimare’s Quadra seat is yet to become reputable, and hence it will be interesting to discover what Qatar Airways passengers make of this next-generation seat, specifically on the new recline feature, given the lack of a traditional recline.

*The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir

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