Air New Zealand has unveiled a new economy class seat dubbed the "Skycouch" to provide a lie-flat experience once reserved for premium cabins.

The airline plans to introduce the new seats on its first Boeing 777-300ER expected for delivery later this year.

The Skycouch is a specially designed row of three seats engineered to create a lie-flat experience by the extension of a padded foot rest that rotates from a perpendicular position to parallel expanding the seat cushion width to accommodate a sleeping position.

For two adults travelling, the airline hopes to sell both seats and a third vacant seat at roughly half the price. Air New Zealand will detail its pricing plan when the seats go on sale starting in April.

The 777-300ER, intended to start replacing the carrier's 747-400s, will be configured with 340 seats in three classes, including 246 in economy, 50 in premium economy and 44 in Business Premier. Of the 246 seats in economy class, the nine-abreast configuration will create 22 Skycouches in the first 11 window rows.

Along with the Skycouch, Air New Zealand will introduce a new Premium Economy "Spaceseat", which the airline says Boeing is considering as a first class offering on the narrow-body 737.

Both the Skycouch and Spaceseat, which were designed by Air New Zealand, "have been licensed to manufacturers Recaro and Contour respectively and have the potential to generate significant license fees for Air New Zealand in the future," says Ed Sims, Air New Zealand Group general manager international airline.

Air New Zealand will equip each of its 777-300ER aircraft with the Panasonic eX2 in-flight entertainment system and will introduce in-seat ordering of meals and drinks.

The airline will introduce the Skycouch 777-300ER starting with selected Auckland to Los Angeles flights beginning in the fourth quarter, followed by dedicated return service on its Auckland to London via Los Angeles route beginning in April 2011.

Air New Zealand also plans to refit its fleet of eight 777-200ER aircraft starting in mid-2011 with all Asian, North American and UK services to have the new product by 2012.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news