Business-class seating entrant Unum says its first customer – which it is announcing at AIX – is a single-aisle operator. That is despite the UK company targeting its sights on what it says is an under-served Airbus A330 market.


Source: Unum

Brady, pictured at last year’s AIX, also sees potential in a wave of 787s coming onto the secondhand market

Chris Brady, founder and chief executive of the Crawley-based firm, believes airlines who fly Airbus’s smallest twin-aisle type are often shunned by the large seat manufacturers, especially for retrofit contracts, because A330 fleets tend to be in single figures.

However, the one-time chief executive of economy seat specialist Acro says the fact that the A330 is also the “most transitioned” widebody, and the fact that most contracts will be for 20 to 30 seats per shipset, makes it an ideal fit for a start-up such as Unum, which is committing to on-time deliveries as it builds up its production capabilities at its recently opened factory.

He says that two in three of all enquiries on the stand at last year’s AIX were from A330 operators.

However, Unum also sees an opportunity in a wave of Boeing 787s that will be coming off lease and entering the secondhand market in the next couple of years, most of which have interiors that date back more than a decade, usually with the now largely unfashionable “step-over” – rather than herringbone configuration – business class seats.

Unum plans to focus on the retrofit market. “If one of the OEMs wants to offer us as catalogue, we won’t say no, but realistically we are not going to be competing for line-fit deals in the early years,” says Brady.

The former Virgin Atlantic executive says the Unum One seat, which it is exhibiting at the show, combines “luxury and refinement” with “simplicity of engineering”, adding: “That is what you are ultimately measured on, along with the ability to deliver on time.”

The company is aiming to have its first product certificated this year for initial deliveries in 2025.

Brady says its largely UK-based supply chain is in place and ready to deliver. It includes composite manufacturers Piran and Dash-CAE, as well as German companies Schroth for seat belts and Buehler Motor for electric drives. Since opening its factory late last year, Unum has recruited 13 engineers – many of them formerly with Acro, which was also based in Crawley before its move to Northamptonshire – and will be enlisting around half a dozen shopfloor workers when production starts.

Ahead of the show, Unum announced a collaboration with Safran Passenger Innovations to integrate the latter’s in-flight entertainment hardware, RAVE Ultra, into its Unum One.