Aircraft seat manufacturers are heading back to the drawing board to find solutions to accommodate large-sized passengers as airlines express concerns that expanding waistlines could ultimately threaten their bottom lines.

During a recent Airbus A350 XWB customer meeting the airlines "consistently asked" whether the armrests on economy-class seats can completely retract back so that they can sell two seats to over-sized passengers, Jonathan Norris, vice-president cabin design office for Airbus said during an Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) single focus workshop at the airframer's Hamburg facility.

B/E Aerospace, Recaro and Zodiac Group unit Weber Aircraft are providing economy-class seats for the A350 and on "two of the three models the armrest is not flush" so those two undisclosed manufacturers "are looking into it", reveals Norris.

big pax

While a sensitive issue to discuss, passenger size has emerged as "a core issue we need to deal with", says Nicolas Tschechne, who conducts trend research and market intelligence at Airbus.

"Worldwide people are reaching BMI [body mass index] of above 25 or 30. It's quite dramatic. And sitting next to obese passengers is the number one complaint. When Ryanair asks [passengers] what they want to be charged for, they say 'integrate BMI into the ticket charge'," says Tschechne.

Even though airlines want to have the ability to sell two seats to large passengers, some are eager to limit actual seat width to expand capacity. "The airlines looking to increase seating density have basically gone as far as they can with pitch, so in some cases there has been a push for reduced width [to accommodate] more seats abreast. That's happening at the same time that people are getting wider. Width is a hard thing to play with. Going from nine to 10 seats abreast means quite a significant reduction in the available space per passenger," says Airbus marketing manager Daniel Percy.

"However, when you're sitting in a seat for a while, you move side to side for comfort. If we reduce that, it has a very long term impact on the comfort of the passenger. You might argue that on a low-cost trip, you can put up with [narrow] seats for a couple of hours. But when we look at long haul travel, even a five hour sector, the more you're in the chair, the sorer your body becomes and the more you need to move. It's quite a big issue."

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Source: Flight Daily News