Safran Group - substructural seat anatomy
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The Long Awaited Immensely Exciting
Evolution in VIP Seats
From the very beginnings of private aviation, seat design has been what many designers would call undernourished. Owners and Operators have often put it in less delicate terms. But what all could agree is that VIP aviation seating still remains a far cry from our favorite chairs at home.
Op-ed By: Richard Roseman
Names like Hans Wegner, Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer and Ray Eames have long been global icons in chair design. Their timeless designs were, and remain, the benchmark of comfort and style to millions on every continent and across multiple generations. Fact is, my own posterior spends more time than I care to admit, parked in a chair. To that end, I long ago embarked on an exhaustive search for the most comfortable and stylish chair possible from which to write articles like this one (among other pass-times). For me, I wound up settling on the iconic circa 1956 Eames Lounger & Ottoman. I've never looked back.
But unfortunately, you can't bolt an Eames chair to the floor structure of a BBJ and expect to fly in it (or so the pesky DERs and AWRs say). They insist on reciting statutes such as 16G certification, non-flammable foam buildups and a myriad of other regulatory requirements - all equally pesky issues that have long stood in the way of truly wonderful seats for aircraft.
All kidding aside however, it remains by and large, a very real lament for owners and designers alike. As far back as I can remember, be it a Lear 35 or a VVIP 747 Head of State aircraft, the single seats (yep, even those reserved for Kings) have looked more like tufted tombstones than chairs you'd actually want to sit in for eight-hours while crossing the Atlantic. We all know the ones and to this day, they're still an all too common sight.
Designers have long struggled with upholstery designs, stitch patterns and other forms of cosmetic enhancement to somehow take a flat, straight back seat frame and actually make it comfortable, let alone have an appealing aesthetic. I've struggled with it in my own projects. But at the end of the day, there is only so much a designer OR a talented upholsterer can make out of most 16G certified seat frames - ones that in their naked state, closely resemble an electric chair.
Certification criteria is rigorous to say the very least - and it seems to get more so every few years. As many of us will recall, the FAA (and other regulatory bodies across the world) raised the forward crash statute from 9G to 16G in one stroke of the pen, back in 2002. The new statute required all aircraft being built after 2009 to meet the new rule - which by now of course, includes virtually all new VVIP outfitted aircraft and certainly all high-end commercial platforms. But if my math is right, that's nearly DOUBLE the old statute, right? Sounds a bit arbitrary to me, but then what do I know about crash survivability. But the point is, it was hard enough before, and certainly far more challenging now to squeeze creativity or comfort out of most 16G certified frames.
But before we go waving our finger at seat manufacturers, we first need to realize what they're up against. The less than appealing single chairs we find on most VVIP and business aircraft are not (in most cases) the fault of seat manufacturers themselves. They're forced to work within these and many other constraints, all making it extremely challenging to create truly "wonderful", ground-breaking new seats. And that doesn't even touch the exorbitant cost of radically new sub-structural platforms. It involves tons of R&D, new TSO applications, testing etc. It's both costly and time consuming. But we shouldn't let them off the hook entirely either. In some cases, manufacturers are simply reluctant to break from older, fiscally comfortable NRE designs to roll out something ground-breaking - even if they desire to do so.
Leading aviation design studios around the world have been proposing new, more ergonomic and far more visually appealing designs for a couple of decades now. But beautifully seductive concept renderings don't constitute reality, in much the same way that evocative concept cars never make it to production.
But there is a balance between customer driven market demand and stiff certification challenges. Sadly however, in aviation, we are still aways from achieving that balance.
BUT THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS; a hand full of bold manufacturers and talented progressive designers are tenaciously bent on changing the landscape, regardless of cost and regardless or timelines. Ultimately of course, their efforts are driven by the end users. Billionaires don't really seem to mind paying stratospheric sums of money for their VVIP flying apartments. And why not? It's the pinnacle of ownership on the planet. But the last thing they want to look at (or sit in ) after writing a $100 ML + check, is a chair that looks like a high-back church pew, no matter how many french seams, quilted leather lumbars or motorized functions it might have.
But as the Dylan song lyric goes, "The Times, They are a Changin'!'" Here's a look at some of the progressive companies and design studios at the forefront of this movement, and how much dramatic change is being yielded.
One of the most well known and current undertakings is a collaboration between Paris based Pierrejean Vision Design Studio and LUFTHANSA Technik in Hamburg. The result of their collaboration is pictured below - a platform that allows for almost endless configurations and customizations. Jaques Pierrejean, PV's design office manager and designer, takes this rather philosophical overview...
Another progressive company that's been at the forefront, is INAIRVATION of Austria. One of the very first such malleable and creatively flexible platforms came from them in collaboration with F-List and and Lufthansa Technik, as early as 2016, (pictured below) as well as some more recent concepts by IAV's design director, Michael Reichenecker - also produced for Lufthansa Technik.
The original chair, shown in quilted leather features a manipulable lumbar - affording dramatic possibilities and customizations, even to a specific owner. The "concept level" Office Chair below is great for desks and dining settings. With increased height and smaller backrest width, it’s a comfortable yet space-saving option. The Lounge Chair option comes with key data such as leg rest articulation and rotation specifications. There is also new structural designs and progressive features such as new minimum upholstery requirements.
Also setting a new standard is YASAVA of Switzerland - a company almost entirely dedicated to aircraft passenger comfort, both in the sitting and lying positions. Pictured below is what the company suggests as an anti-gravitational human support structure, the AÏANA® WAVE opens up a new class to meet the needs and requirements for long endurance flights. Designed with engineering principals of the human body and research from aero-medical sciences and sleep psychology, the AÏANA® WAVE is ingeniously controlled by gravity through patent-pending Smart Mechanics.
SAFRAN Group is another major player in the new wave of design flexible seating. While Safran however, tends to focus more on commercial seating platforms - it still reflects the ongoing evolution of new, more advanced and aesthetically appealing aircraft seating. Pictured below (and on the header of this article) is a break-away diagram which illustrates their chair's design flexibility.
Safran Group, like others, are becoming much more focussed on the 'anatomy' of seat design as it relates to the anatomy of the human body. Lumbar and buttocks components can now be adjusted to fit a myriad of design and comfort criteria - which is a monumental departure from decades past and is rapidly changing the way the whole industry approaches new seating applications. In addition, new structural materials are making them lighter and stronger in the process.
Other companies like Starling, PAC, Iacobucci and BE Aerospace are in the game also - but in terms of more flexible, design friendly platforms, are perhaps a little less on the cutting edge and more traditional - but still extremely popular with their customer base. Starling's newly updated VIP Track and Swivel Seat (pictured below) are lighter, more agile and have a vastly improved gliding and locking action.
Iacobucci has collaborated with both BMW and Pininfarina on separate occasions. Seat companies often take on automotive collaboration partners in perfecting the design of their seats and that will continue to the benefit of both partners and the end consumer.
Suffice to say, the long overdue evolution of more design friendly VVIP seat platforms, is now in full swing. And it's just getting started. Despite sometimes onerous regulations, and the high cost of new TSO applications, the movement will not slow down as long as owners and designers continue to push for change.
As a designer, there are few things more frustrating than when you realize you can't give your clients what they're asking for. For a long time now, that's been a pervasive frustration for many designers when it comes to VVIP chairs. The question usually goes something like this:
"Why in heaven's name, can't I simply get a chair in my airplane like the ones I have at home?"
Until recently the answer we've had to offer, was as painful as the question.
But that's rapidly changing!
A-319 Executive Emirates
Billionaires don't really seem to mind paying stratospheric sums of money for their VVIP flying apartments, and why not? It's the pinnacle of ownership on the planet. But the last thing they want to look at (or sit in) after writing a $100 + ML check, is a chair that looks like a high-back church pew, no matter how many french seams, quilted leather lumbars or motorized functions it might have.
“This chair is my friend. It wears a different cover depending on the comfort I need, the situation I’m in and the culture I live in. The concept of chair opens up an unequaled degree of freedom for cabin interior designers.”
the AÏANA® WAVE by Yasava
Pierrejean Vision / Lufthansa Technik collaboaratiion
INAIRVATION / F-List / Lufthansa Technik 2016
the AÏANA® WAVE by Yasava
Safran Group - substructural seat anatomy
IACobucci's new VVIP seat in collaboration with BMW