Star Alliance trials aircraft seats for possible joint procurement

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Global airline group the Star Alliance is studying various economy-class seats with the aim of selecting a common seat architecture that could be jointly procured and installed by its member airlines.

The goal of the current trials "is not to come up with a standardised economy-class seat across Star Alliance, but rather to select [a] seat base that those carriers who wish to participate can use and adapt to their needs in terms of color, fabric, IFE [in-flight entertainment] systems, etc.", a Star spokesman tells ATI and Flightglobal.

"In order to select this base seat, customer trials are currently underway in both Europe and Asia. This entire project is part of an ongoing initiative at Star Alliance to explore opportunities for synergies and cost savings for the member carriers," he adds.

Air China is among the Star member airlines participating in the seat study. The carrier revealed in a statement today that Beijing has been chosen "as one of only two locations to conduct research into which seats passengers prefer. This is the first time that such research, which is also being conducted in Germany, will be held in China."

The airline has set up a special aircraft seating simulation zone at Beijing Capital International airport for the research, which will last until the end of the month. Some 200 of Air China's most loyal customers will test seats currently in use as well as three new seating concepts from various manufacturers, says Air China.

Each PhoenixMiles frequent flyer club member will spend 1.5 hours in the simulated cabin environment testing the seats. "They will then complete questionnaires on various aspects of the seats, including the comfort, design and possible improvements as an important reference for Star Alliance in deciding which seat is the most suitable," says the carrier.

Star has been quietly studying the possibility of jointly agreeing and procuring a common seat architecture for at least three years, says a source with knowledge of the situation.

"The alliance reasons that if it can bring enough carriers together to agree on a specification for an economy-class seat, it would have a lot of clout to get the seats for good unit costs," says the source, noting that Star is likely looking at the big three seat makers. These are B/E Aerospace, Zodiac - with its Weber and Sicma units - and Recaro.

Star is not currently providing further details of its trial.