Air Transport World

Seat wars.(airlines enhance cabin interiors)

LIKE NEARLY ALL OTHER ASPECTS of commercial aviation, designing and developing cabin interior products has become a fast-moving business aimed at giving airlines a passenger service edge over rivals. Gone are the days when international carriers were content to maintain the same first and business class configurations and amenities for eight years or longer. Airlines barely are done retrofitting their fleets with one premium class design before unveiling a newer, better one, shortening the lifecycle of those interiors to 5-7 years, say experts.

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British Airways' next-generation lie-flat World Club business-class seats unveiled last November came just six years after it introduced its previous lie-flat premium seating. That rapid upgrade rate adds up to a growing and lucrative business for the suppliers of aircraft interior products. "It's very much a growth market," B/E Aerospace President and CO Michael Baughan tells ATW. "Our business is growing over 20% a year and one reason it's growing is that [cabin interiors] are the vehicles by which airlines maintain a competitive advantage."

B/E has an installed base of more than 1 million seats valued at $5 billion on in-service aircraft and claims to have more seat manufacturing capacity than all other aircraft seat builders combined. It generated $1.13 billion in revenue in 2006, up 33.7% over the prior year, including a 37.9% jump in seating sales to $388.5 million.

The company says it has invested "millions of dollars" in creating engineering and design processes for developing aircraft seats that incorporate the use of 3-D computer programs using animation. …

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