Premium economy to take flight, new study shows

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Premium economy sections will become more and more prevalent in airline cabins as traditional seating layouts undergo an overhaul, shows a new study from IHS' IMS Research.

Shipments of premium economy seats will grow to almost 70,000 in 2022 from 14,000 in 2012, says the study, or a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.1% annually.

Business class seat shipments will rise to 77,000 by 2022 at a CAGR of 9.3%, up from 32,000 last year.

Shipments of economy class seats will reach 670,000 deliveries in this forecast period.

The traditional seating configuration of first, business and economy classes will eventually give way to a business, premium economy and economy model, says IHS analyst Heath Lockett. Part of this is due to airlines' differentiating service on these seats with extra perks like enhanced meals.

"Until recently, premium economy seating wasn't entirely dissimilar to economy, save for the addition of a couple of inches of seat pitch or a slightly more comfortable seat," says Lockett. "However, that situation has evolved rapidly in recent years. The premium economy cabins of airlines such as Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic now almost equal the luxury found in some business-class cabins - a trend certainly expected to continue, particularly as business class becomes the 'new' first class."

Premium economy seats are also gaining traction in North America, with carriers such as WestJet and Air Canada embarking to outfit their fleets with the cabins.

The installation base for commercial aircraft seats was more than three million units last year, the study says.