The Aircraft Interiors Expo may have come to a close this year, but the event, like every year, shows the very best of the best of aircraft seating and cabin enhancements. 2016 may have brought a variety of new seats to the market and obviously the acclaimed Airbus Airspace cabin, but there was one stand out product which isn’t exactly new.
It may have been hidden away the previous year, but this year, the Waterfront Seat took centre stage at the Panasonic stand, and quite rightly so. This innovative seat is the brainchild of Panasonic, B/E Aerospace, Teague and Formation Design Group. On first look it’s a smart adaptation of any super-business class reverse herringbone seat but on closer inspection, the seat reveals an obvious evolution for the passenger experience, whereby comfort and convenience work together.
Like the B/E Aerospace Jazz seat concept, the Waterfront boasts an impressive arsenal of technology including a 24″ 4k screen, mobile app integrated IFE system and an inductive surface that charges compatible electronic devices without the need for cables. The technology is so advanced; your phone when wirelessly connected to the seat, will go ballistic at you if you’ve left any items in the storage units of the seat. It’s a small, but hugely impressive detail.
The seat has been designed for today’s level of technology, embracing the race for high speed broadband enabled aircraft. The screen hosts a camera, perfect for FaceTime (or just applying your makeup) the connectivity levels between phone and screen mean the lines are now blurring between traditional and more personalized in-flight entertainment.
Making the seat intuitive in our opinion is the true success of the product. The Waterfront’s environment is totally customizable. Lighting, heating and seat configurations work in harmony, and no longer does a passenger simply adjust the seat to a fully flat bed. In one press of a button the user adjusts the lighting to a more ambient ‘slumber-inducing’ level and transforms the seat to fully flat bed. The seat also features a large diffused air vent by the screen that blows cool or warm air gently to the occupant. And if that wasn’t enough, automotive nods have taken hold here too, with the seat offering temperature control of the seat cushions themselves, either using air cooling or heating. Even a storage unit in the seat can be heated or cooled on request.
As the lines between business class and first class fade (at least from a hard product point of view) the seat has also found itself as a natural bridge between the fully enclosed first class suites and standard full flat partially private super business class seats. The Waterfront Seat has a built privacy door, a key element to the suite. The technology embedded in the product embraces privacy too, greeting the passenger by name only on their own handheld device so as not to broadcast sensitive information to other passengers.
The seat has a hidden benefit to airlines too, including 12% weight savings and a 15% reduction in part count. But the biggest commercial advantage is it has the ability to collect big data. The connection between handheld device and seat means a certain amount of information is handed over to the aircraft. Name, viewing and browsing habits are just the tip of the iceberg. These valuable pieces of targeted information are becoming more and more lucrative, and the airline has the ability to cash in on their most premium tiered passengers at a very non-intrusive level.
Other non-intrusive elements include the connectivity between seat and cabin crew. Passengers can set an alarm call, order food and drink, or make a request from the comfort of the seat, which transmits to the crew through a fully connected aircraft.
It may be fair to say that most passengers would prefer to use the seats standard controls, which includes a tablet second screen as standard, to navigate through the seat and IFE functionality, after all, an app needs to be downloaded before interacting with the product. But all connectivity aside, the way the seat has been designed showcases a future trend in airlines investing in passenger ‘environments’ rather than traditional seats. Could this be a glimpse into a not too distant future of aircraft? With a roll out period of 12-18 months, we could be seeing this at the latter end of 2017 should an airline place an order.