But while some military folks saw sideways seating as 'no big deal', others were aghast at the mere mention of it and got their knickers well and truly knotted up over the whole business.
Yes, there are MANY safety and regulatory issues to consider. But of all aviation industry stakeholders, shouldn't designers be the ones to at least explore different aircraft interiors?
As the Aircraft Interiors Expo picks up steam in Hong Kong, I've asked Dr. Indi Rajasingham, inventor of the Air Sleeper, to write a guest blog about why Asia may be the launching ground for some of the more radical ideas out there, including his own seemingly radical concept - lie-flat sleeper seats for economy class. Here is Indi in his own words.
Asia's Business Travel Market - The approaching market Tsunami
Ride it with new cabin technologies to wild success or drown with the old technologies
Indi Rajasingham, chairman MMILLENNIUMM GROUP
The sharp drops in the business travel market as the recession bites is a major concern, particularly in Asia where the falls in demand have been near catastrophic. Even the best performing airlines both in the region and worldwide have seen huge demand drop particularly in the top end of the market in first and business class. This compounded with the demand drop off in the cargo market as the recession advances has contributed to a very challenging time for airlines in the region.
There is of course no question that the recession has been the principal factor in the demand drop off. However the precipitous Asian business class drop off is an interesting manifestation of a fundamental shift in the commercial aviation market structure in the last decade.
Conventional wisdom is that business travel is a monolithic market segment. However while this was perhaps true till the 1980s, global economics has change this market fundamentally.
The rise in demand for business travel by businesses in the Asian region has fundamentally different economics to the industrialized countries. While potential demand in the Asian market, if enabled, is huge and growing, the market is not as price elastic as the business travel market in industrialized countries.
The upshot of this is that business travel for enabling global business is a much larger part of the cost of doing business in Asian and other developing economies and therefore, as profitability falls, the critical price point at which business travel gets cut is much lower than in industrialized countries. Travel is then only for mission critical needs and excludes much of the discretionary travel.
This fundamental factor is bourn out in the recent precipitous collapse of the business class market in the Asian region as profitability in global business suffered from the recession. The critical price point for these markets was lower than the market offerings by the airlines.
Therefore airlines need to hone in on the critical price points and critical human factors for this huge and emerging business market. Most importantly offer these combinations at profitable operating costs. This will become even more critical as fuel prices begin to escalate.
The key factors for defining this as a sustainable market are:
• Define price points that are acceptable in this relatively inelastic market.
• Define human factors for this market - to effectively enable the business processes of passengers. Sleep is a critical factor.
• Ensure safety levels that meet or exceed conventional seats and engineering that is feasible.
• Ensure that the offering is within the parameters of a sustainable profitable operating plan for airlines.
It is no secret that there has been considerable interest in the "premium economy sector" which is the space that these offerings will inhabit. However, there are a wide variety of ideas on what to offer and how to build a cabin to meet this offering.
The principal constraint in design is the space in the "tube". Take away the aisle space required by regulation and there is a limited amount of 3-D space where the passenger accommodation needs to be created to best meet the human factors, the safety factors, and sound engineering and then have an operating cost low enough to enable the price points demanded by this market.
As floor space on the aircraft is limited and sleep is a critical human factor overnight for enabling the passenger's business process. There is a limit to the cost reduction possible with horizontal flat beds on a single tier. Therefore the recent interest in vertical space for efficient deployment of passengers to meet their requirements at a cost low enough to enable price points they will accept.
Vertical Space - the key to the solution
The use of vertical space to increase the number of passengers in the same 3-D space offers the opportunity to spread the operating cost of the aircraft over more passengers but with the advantage that the size of the seat and bed offerings do not have to be made uncomfortably small. However, this is a new paradigm that has many pitfalls and careful design is imperative.
The following are some of the show stoppers in using vertical space in tiered architectures that are not issues in a single level deployment.
• In upper levels of tiered architectures, shared leg room during a 90 second emergency evacuation can be disastrous as a locked mechanism on a seat will not allow middle passengers out. There is no adjacent floor to step onto while climbing over a seat.
• Shared ladders in a 90 second evacuation can be disastrous with handicapped or injured passengers on the ladder while others wait.
• Visibility of the lower tier in seeing the upper tier as they egress during a 90 second emergency evacuation, to ensure that they don't land on the top of passengers on the lower tier or making their way out of the lower tier.
• Sleep accommodation not designed for crash conditions and far removed from the seats will create a safety hazard.
UTILITY & COMFORT PITFALLS
• Fully flat horizontal bed not possible.
• Aisle access for all passengers not easy.
• Position of passenger depends on other passenger positions.
• Communication with and service by cabin attendants are ergonomically efficient.
• Privacy when desired
Vertical space - market interest ?
So in theory there are reasons for the use of vertical space for creating a new cabin paradigm. However we at MMILLENNIUMM GROUP needed to have clear market corroboration that there will not be psychological factors that will prevent market acceptance.
We therefore conducted a Market Survey at Dulles International airport in Washington DC for long haul passengers travelling to different parts of the globe.
We asked them to consider 3 options - all using the same space and priced identically:
1. The Air Sleeper that is tiered with 3 steps to the upper tier.
2. A Premium economy seat with a pitch of 37"
3. An economy seat with the option to sleep on time shared beds at a remote location in the aircraft when they become available.
77% chose the tiered Air Sleeper. 13% chose the conventional premium economy seats. 9% chose the conventional economy seat with the time shared bed.
Vertical space offering by the Air Sleeper
Air Sleepers are designed for markets all the way from economy and up. For this market our offerings in the premium economy can support a 6ft 3in lie-flat and horizontal experience. It is very much like most Business Class standard seats now around the world with a comparable width, but with about 2 to 3 times the number of seats as in conventional Business Class, thereby reducing cost per seat for the airlines. A Business Class type seat that takes up half the space can be priced at a little over half the conventional Business Class price and still make more money for the Airline.
This is the space where the emerging Asian Market Tsunami lies!
Notably however the Air Sleeper and more generally the tiered architectures that use vertical space are a complementary product class to the traditional Business Travel market and not substitutes. Excellent design of traditional Business Class seats will continue to cater for a different market.
MMILLENNIUMM GROUP has had significant interest from airlines with strong long haul capabilities from around the world. We have commenced doing LOPAs for interested parties.
for more information www.AirSleeper.Info.