Aerospace and Formula One team up to create innovative new aircraft seating

Posted on 30 Sep 2019 by The Manufacturer

A consortium of aircraft manufacturers has teamed up with Formula One to develop lightweight aircraft seating designed to help reduce CO2 emissions and secure the UK's foothold in the £16bn aircraft interiors market.

Formula One know-how combined with aerospace composites advanced manufacturing methods will be used to create a lightweight aircraft seating alternative that could vastly diminish carbon emissions and potentially save airlines millions of dollars each year.

Silhouettes of Business People Travel Aviation - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE), JPA Design, British Airways and SWS Certification have joined forces with Airbus for  an 18-month manufacturing project, backed by £1.4m in funding from the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI).

The project is intended to provide opportunities for skilled UK jobs in organisations along the supply chain, as well as the UK’s aircraft seat industry.

The goal of the project is to develop a product which can fit across “multiple platforms”, and will initially focus on business class and premium economy seating designed for wide-body Airbus aircraft such as the A330 and A350, as well as the narrower A320.

Whereas most performance critical elements of aircraft seats are typically made from machined or cast aluminium, the consortium alternative will comprise RACETRAK, a method of integrating unidirectional fibres, and 223, a technique for creating 3D structures from a 2D composite preform. [Both RACETRAK and 223 are intellectual property from WAE]

JPA will provide a patented modular monocoque design and original cabin layouts, with an adaptable ‘tub’ that maximises occupant and luggage space.

As a result, business class seating will be on average 4kg lighter, with a version for premium economy offering a 2kg weight and space saving solution, according to ATI.

Airbus, British Airways, Williams, JPA Design and SWS join forces on innovative new aircraft seat - image courtesy of ATI.

Typically for a wide-bodied aircraft there are 40 business class and 34 premium economy seats. With 450 wide bodied planes being manufactured each year, the total addressable market is in the order of 18,000 business class and 15,000 premium economy seats.

The number of commercial aircraft needed is predicted to double in the next two decades, with an equivalent rise in demand in the market for seats, according to  the UK’s Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space trade organisation, ADS.

The interiors market is valued at £12bn ($14.6bn) for new-build aircraft and retrofit, with retrofit valued at £2.4bn ($3bn) in 2016 growing to £4.2bn ($5.2bn) in 2026.

Approximately the same market again exists for retrofit as airlines refresh their cabins.

To demonstrate the potential cost and energy saving possibilities involved, ATI said that by switching all business class seats with a lighter product on 12 long-haul planes such as the A350 translates to saving 942,000kg of CO2 and $195,600 in fuel per year, based on a 4kg weight saving per seat.

ATI also said the consortium’s composite manufacturing process will “reduce the bill of material (BOM) count” and deliver lower cost, lightweight, reconfigurable seating that uses recycled materials and “Formula One-inspired” technology and could potentially “lead to new UK manufacturing business growth”.

Due to advanced tooling and manufacturing methods, the consortium expects their products to be cost neutral compared to the competition.

British Airways and Airbus will help to commercialise the seating products, while JPA will head up design, and SWS the safety certification. WAE will to help build a UK supply chain for composite structures.

In terms of spill over benefits, the composites manufacturing processes and IP developed for the manufacture of lightweight parts have applications across aircraft interiors, with Williams Advanced Engineering also having project working relationships with BAE Systems, Airbus and the National Composites Centre (NCC), who together have customers across the automotive, defence and energy sectors seeking new lightweight structures solutions in order to enhance performance and drive lower emissions.

By Rory Butler, Digital Journalist 

*Image courtesy of Depositphotos / Infographic courtesy of ATI