The aptly named Rebel Aero is one of a number of recent European start-ups out to prove that when it comes to the aircraft seating market there is still plenty creative thinking to be done. Although the spin-off from an established composites specialist called United Aerospace has yet to win any orders, managing director and founder Gareth Burks believes that with more innovation coming down the line, it is just a matter of time. For too long, he believes, the market has not been daring enough, particularly in the economy cabin.
At just its second Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg last year, the Welsh company unveiled its S:two, an economy seat featuring a three-point harness and fold-up cushion that allows passengers to stand up in the space that would normally be occupied by half the seat – not unlike in a cinema – allowing faster loading and unloading. At the same time, the hinged design allows it to function as a booster seat for young children, much as in a car. Burks also maintains it is the only economy seat with a two-way shoulder belt as standard.
The mostly aluminium S:two – a development of the S:one all-composite concept which hailed Rebel’s arrival on the seating scene at Hamburg in 2015 – won the Pembrokeshire-based firm a Crystal Cabin award, the annual Oscars of the interiors industry. Since then, Airbus has been evaluating the product and Burks says airline interest in a retrofit version has been high. “Since winning the award we have had lots of approaches to JV [joint venture] it, licence it or even acquire the business,” he adds.
Burks says its first product was a reaction to the “fact that traditional economy seats had not really changed their design in 30 years”. However, that design – three pieces of bonded composite material that “instantly gave the passenger two or three extra inches of legroom” – was “very much a concept”, and Rebel did not have the resources to obtain certification. “EASA [the European Aviation Safety Agency] wanted to put a committee to look at it and we were not rich enough to force it through,” he says. “So we took everything the customer liked and tweaked it into S:two.”
Although Rebel is a new name in seating, Burks is no novice in the market. A product designer by training, he and three colleagues led a management buyout of United Aerospace in 2004. The company had its origins in Formula 1, but Burks and his colleagues moved into the seating market, as a supplier of composite structures to customers such as Zodiac. It remains a second-tier supplier to the French company, making about 125 seats a week, although its portfolio of composite products ranges from target drones for defence company Qinetiq to medical equipment.
Burks says his inspiration for Rebel came from the fact that he used to visit AIX every year and come back frustrated. “My business partner at the time told me to put my money where my mouth was,” he notes. As a small enterprise – United Aerospace employs just 49 people, mostly in assembly – the business cannot spend big on any certification programme until a customer is confirmed. But with a further concept promised for AIX this year – the third in three years – Burks is determined to show that he will go on being a Rebel without a pause.
Source: Flight Daily News