The big seat squeeze: Do B/E, Zodiac and Recaro have room?

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Aircraft seat manufacturers B/E Aerospace, Zodiac and Recaro (seats pictured above) have enjoyed plenty of new business ever since reports started surfacing from Japan that seat maker Koito Industries had falsified data on seats.

And the ‘big three’ can expect an even greater windfall now the EASA and the US FAA have formally issued airworthiness directives on the matter.

But will they be able meet demand in the near-term? Test data was fabricated by Koito on a staggering 150,000 seats in the world fleet. And there is already a tight bottleneck in the supply chain.

Reading between the lines of the ADs issued this week, it is clear that many airlines have not made adequate contingency plans for replacing Koito seats.

“Many kept their heads in the sand, hoping it would go away,” an industry source tells RWG.

The airlines which, on learning about Koito’s problems back in 2009, booked capacity early at B/E, Recaro and Zodiac’s Sicma or Weber units – or other seat makers – will be ahead of the pack. Those who waited could face a mighty struggle in sourcing new seats in the short-term, if they choose retrofit over compliance with some of the more rigorous aspects of the ADs.

V Australia, which operates four 777-300ERs with Koito economy-class seats but selected Recaro for its newest 777, told the FAA in November that its then proposed AD would cause significant issues for operators “as no replacement seats are available to fill the gap”. The carrier, which offers Panasonic in-flight entertainment systems at each seat, faces a potential bill of $2.6 million if it replaces Koito seats on the 777s, based on the FAA’s own estimate of seat costs below.

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But keep in mind that these are today’s estimates, and don’t include IFE and in-seat power. Drawing on our basic economics 101 courses, less supply plus more demand equals higher prices. And the big squeeze is on.

(P.S. Koito is vowing to support its airline customers in wake of the ADs. Does that mean it will cough up some bread?)

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