Renowned aircraft interiors designer James Park of JPA Associates must think I sound like a broken record. Nearly every time I get the chance to bend his ear for a few minutes, I ask him about whether stand-up seats on aircraft will ever see the light of day. To be clear, I’m not a fan of the idea (and there are lingering questions about whether such seats are even certifiable). But we live in an age when airlines are eyeing ultra high-density seating configurations (Bombardier is reportedly even studying a new 160-seat layout for its CSeries; it already offers ‘super economy’ seats), so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that airlines and interiors firms will find a way forward for stand-up seats. In the following Q&A with the APEX editor’s blog, James Park was kind enough to indulge my questions about stand-up seats, stacked sleepers, the dearth of engineers in our sector, and whether any of his own popular seat designs are being copied.
Will we ever see stand-up seats on board aircraft?
We’ve heard statements from Ryanair and they have done surveys that show that if the price is low enough people are prepared to stand. But, at the same time, people flying a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 from London to Singapore are happy to fly economy because it is so comfortable and that is really down to the pitch which is pretty generous compared to most. I imagine that these things will need to be tuned carefully to each market group.
With respect to stand-up seats, I wouldn’t rule anything out but I see it as difficult and challenging because of the safety issues – which clearly have to be the primary consideration when designing for aircraft. It will certainly be quite difficult to restrain people in the event of an impact if they are upright or semi-upright. Also, how would the seat belts work and what would happen in a 16G crisis? Certainly in the rail industry, you make allowances for people on a commuter train, where there is a lot of compartmentalisation so that people will not be thrown down the length of a railway car. So, if you’re introducing more bulkheads in-flight for the same purpose, you’re adding weight and might destroy the weight savings you achieved by having stand-up seats. So I see it as containing a number of difficulties, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. It remains to be seen if any of these things actually come to market.
Will we ever see stacked sleepers installed again?
From a raw engineering point of view, it’s possible to do a stacked sleeper seat, but it would require a lot of cooperation from the airplane maker, and it brings with it quite a few challenges. But yes, it’s doable – in fact, we published some interesting stacked sleeper concept designs a while ago. However, we are not aware of anyone doing anything like that at the moment.
What do you attribute JPA’s success to?
We are doing very well. I think what JPA does is we’re very, very conscientious about the work we do. We have a reputation for high quality design which marries aesthetics with commercial nous and a deep understanding of the engineering that underlies that design. And because we also do a lot of interior design work with hotels and airport lounges around the world, we are able to ensure that aircraft interiors work not just as an air transport environment, but also as a hospitality environment. We have a track record that is attractive to clients and we build good relationships with them – as a result, quite a lot of our business is repeat business.
Is it difficult to find cabin engineers and designers these days?
Within the industry as a whole, it is more difficult than it was ten to 15 years ago. There seem to be fewer people around with the right level of expertise and enthusiasm. But because of our brand and reputation, we have a lot of talented people applying to us and looking for work.
The standard catalogue seats have been encouraged by the airframers but the really interesting and the exciting thing from a design perspective is that there has been a growth in airlines wishing to customize those standard seats. They put their own stamp on it and that has resulted in a growth in the number of colour and trim designers. The Cathay Pacific reverse herringbone business-class seat is a great example of that. American Airlines has taken the same seat as well for the Boeing 777-300ER, but it will customize it and make it recognisably their own.
Do you have any concern that your most popular designs are being copied by rivals?
It’s always very difficult to answer, as we are always restricted by non-disclosure agreements. “Cross fertilisation” within the design world is a bit of a grey area, but has always been there and it occasionally rears its head within aviation interior design, so you have to stay alert. But I would say ‘watch this space’ and you’ll see more from JPA in a few months’ time.