Airbus is rolling out its flexible seating initiative across its entire widebody range with the new A350 twinjet the next in line to receive the modifications.

Development work to add options similar to those seen on the Space-Flex concept for the A320 narrowbody is under way, says Airbus vice-president of cabin marketing Ingo Wuggetzer.

These include replacement of the lavatories in the door 4 area with slimline Smart-Lav units and reconfiguring their layout so they are no longer on either side of the aircraft.

Depending on the cabin configuration this could allow the addition of six additional seats, says Wuggetzer.

Further alterations to the lavatory configuration in the door 3 area could then permit the installation of a further seat row, he says. Previous Airbus presentations have indicated the potential to add up to 18 more seats in a two-class layout,

Airbus has yet to reach the authorisation to offer gateway, but based on airline feedback "we have a lot of interested customers".

The move to add "cabin enablers" to the A350 comes on the back of similar initiatives for the A330 and A380.

On the latter type Airbus has introduced a number of options including Smart-Lav units, removal of the sidewall stowage bins on the upper deck and relocation of the main- and upper-deck crew-rest areas to the lower deck.

Wuggetzer says the although the modifications grant "more row space", the push on the double-decker was to increase the flexibility of the platform.

Further configuration changes include installing 11-across "Max Abreast" seating on the main deck allowing the possibility of a three-class layout on the main deck alone, comprising of budget, standard, and around 60-66 premium-economy seats in the aft-most section of the aircraft.

It is, says Wuggetzer, "not a need to maximise seats, but to maximise revenue", noting that the addition of a premium-economy could increase the annual revenue of an aircraft by $20 million.

Driving the introduction of greater flexibility across all types is the increasing segmentation of the market, says Wuggetzer.

"Cabin changes in the past have really been focussed on premium, there have been lots of things going on in business or first class.

"In future we see more changes happening in economy products or services."

Around 90% of all airline passengers travel in economy, hence the drive to target this part of the cabin, he says. "We think we need to match the demands of that bigger segment a lot better," he says.

That part of the cabin will be further divided, believes Wuggetzer, into budget and economy seating, with premium economy used to close the otherwise "huge gap - we always call it the comfort canyon" to business-class.

Currently there are 26 airlines flying with premium-economy accommodation, he says. Although an increase on 2008's figure of nine carriers, some have been reluctant to take the step for fear of cannibalising their business-class market.

"But business class is now so far away that you can easily position premium economy...without the risk of spill from business," he says.

Source: Flight Daily News