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Sogerma’s Celestial Bodies Feature In Airbus A350XWB Seating

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Two celestial bodies featured at Aircraft Interiors Expo, Americas which show promise for low-footprint cabin comfort. One has already found its place in the A350XWB catalogue.

The COMET® by Sogerma takes up very little space when upright, but can fold out to make a full flat horizontal bed with, what the manufacturer describes, as a patented design for “a consistent surface shape.”  In other words, no lumps or bumps on this seat bed.  The prime selling point Sogerma points out is “a large choice of layout implementation and a high density seat count.”

According to the manufacturer:

“This new seat will provide a real coziness space and an enhanced living space thanks to several storage spaces, ottoman, extra-wide bi-fold metal table, [and] adjustable armrests.”  Sogerma also claims that COMET® “embodies all he comfort of a wide-body Business Class seat” and that it can fit an “integrated 18” IFE screen.”

Sogerma COMET® Business Class Seat
Sogerma COMET® Business Class Seat
Sogerma Celeste® Premium Economy Seat
Sogerma Celeste® Premium Economy Seat

The COMET®’s sister seat, the Celeste® Premium Economy seat, is already available on the A350XWB catalogue.  Sogerma claims that “this seat embodies a real innovation in seating design for business class and Premium Economy cabins and provides Premium Economy passengers with a high level of comfort and an efficient pitch.”

There are several important trends to point out here, related to that description alone.

  • Flight Chic has previously pointed out that the lines between First Class and Business Class have blurred.  Likewise, Business Class and Premium Economy have blurred.  These seats represent improvements over legacy Business Class seats of not so long ago.  The classification is meaningless, except as it pertains to airline marketing.  An airline with a high-premium First Class product might select a more efficient seat for the next cabin or two and call it a Business Class seat or Premium Economy seat, according to its marketing strategy.
  • Yes, Passenger comfort is important, but that “efficient pitch” part is the real selling point for this seat model for airlines.
  • Cabin footprint is a term some readers may already be familiar with.  More relevant than any trend to do with the marketing of the seat, more meaningful than any debate over the disappearing First Class cabin, this trend to denser Premium seating is one to watch closely.  It is a double-edged sword.  Airlines get higher fares and better load factors from denser Business Class and Premium Economy cabins.  As the benefits to passengers of these pricier tickets dwindle, there could a customer backlash against the higher fare or at least a deterioration of the brand image.  That said, the fares for Premium cabins (Business or Premium Economy) could go down with better use of space, or, more likely, stay competitive. For some airlines and some routes, the extremes of comfort we see in other markets—especially among the Gulf carriers and some Asia-Pacific carriers–just don’t pay off.
  • For high-density A350XWB customer airlines, these seating options make a lot of sense.  Furthermore, their passengers’ expectations are likely to be lower than many other international passengers.  The comment I heard earlier this year from an Airbus executive on the higher-density A350XWB cabin is particularly relevant.  Passengers in these emerging markets will see this aircraft as a relief from unbelievably long rides on over-packed trains.  By comparison, even modest luxury feels very luxurious.

Back to the Celeste® profile, competitively, the numbers work in its favour.  It can accommodate a 38” pitch either in Premium Economy on wide-body aircraft, or in Business Class on narrow-bodies.  The width of the seat ranges from 19” to 21.5”—really not much wider than a standard economy seat.  It features a sled-recline, something which we have seen in some innovative seats proposed in the market, even Economy Seats.  A sled-recline is certainly a benefit to the passenger in the seat behind: no worries over that quite-tight-for-Premium 38” pitch being further reduced by a passenger in front; no loss of productivity for passengers working on laptops in the back.  Sogerma states that the seat can offer a 40 degree recline angle, which represents 11 inches of conventional recline.  The company claims: “This offers the long-haul traveler the most comfortable relaxed seating position while enjoying the benefits of travelling in Premium Economy.”  These seats can accommodate an IFE screen up to 16”.

We’ve discussed before (very recently, in fact) that there will be more passengers packed in the Premium cabins.  By ensuring that the COMET® meets these design objectives, Sogerma has made the future of its COMET® Business Class seat secure.   As the Celeste® is already on the Airbus catalogue for the A350XWB, it could already be considered a successful design.  Mind you, Sogerma has an inside-track (no pun intended on the seat tracks which will hold these seats in place). It is, after all, a wholly owned Airbus subsidiary.  It has also recently announced a merger with another Airbus subsidiary, Aerolia, which makes aerostructures and systems.  According to the announcement:

The Company will have a total of 4,500 employees in France on production sites equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and a design office with some 500 engineers. The new entity will also have two industrial sites in North America with a total of more than 500 employees which will be strategic bases for development with North American customers. With more than 1,000 employees in North Africa, it will also have strong bases to foster its competitiveness.

Based on that bit of news, it’s reasonable to think that these Airbus subsidiaries will be trying to get their seats on more mid-haul aircraft in the US.  It’s questionable whether they would succeed for long-haul flights, because the US passenger profile is already highly sensitive to cramped conditions, but it shouldn’t be discounted.  All complaints aside, cheaper fares win every time.

We can, and should, expect that there will be a further compression of the cabin up-front, especially on highly competitive price-sensitive routes.

There is one last point to make on cabin footprint compression.  Whatever the cabin section, regardless of what you call that cabin, airlines have selective hearing when it comes to passenger preferences.  Because of the passenger benefits of advanced IFE and of Wi-Fi onboard, we might expect more airlines to opt to dramatically improve these “footprint invisible” products, while sacrificing passengers’ personal space.  While that may sound intolerable to some passengers, it could be a smart move for airlines.

A couple of inches here an there can be compensated for in the seat design, and are almost imperceptible to passengers.  On paper, they sound dramatic, but passengers’ perceptions of space are adjusted by other optical features: the colour-scheme of the cabin, the height of the ceiling, the amount of light which comes in through larger windows, the seat frame, and even the shape of the cushions.

I’m not suggesting that tighter isn’t tighter.  However, passengers who are happily distracted with their In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity could be less likely to notice one or two inches in any direction—especially if the seat was designed to make up for that lost space.  At least, that’s what many airlines and manufacturers are counting on.

Passenger numbers are projected to double over the next two decades, and flying remains the safest, most convenient way to get almost anywhere. A tighter cabin design is unlikely to detrimentally affect those growing passenger numbers.

We’ll see in five more years how much of this has taken hold, but I’d bet the future is what Sogerma calls “cozy.”
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