Even as Air India (AI) gears up to receive its first new aircraft, a Boeing 777-200 LR in June 2006, it has placed a $50 million (Rs 205 crore) order to install comfortable seats in the fleet of Boeing 787s that it has ordered, the first of which is scheduled for delivery in September 2008.
Boeing 787, called the Dreamliner, is still under development. Its first delivery is scheduled in August 2008 and AI is one its launch customers.
"We have selected Webber seats for the economy class and Contour seats for the business class to be installed in each of the 27 Boeing 787s, which would be inducted in our fleet from September 2008 onwards," said S Venkat, AI’s executive director (finance) as well as spokesman.
"These are the latest state-of-the-art seats, which are electronically controlled from a cradle position to flat bed. These seats will be fitted with top-of-the-line entertainment systems which is shortly being selected," he added.
These seats are specially designed to ensure better passenger comforts and will be a marked change from the seats in Air India’s existing aircraft. Leading aircraft seats manufactures are EADS Sogerma, Sicma Aero Seat, Recaro Aircraft Seating, Avio Interiors, Contour Premium Aircraft Seating, to name a few.
Seats, in fact, are the most expensive accessories in an aircraft at present. But in future, in-flight entertainment systems may emerge the single most expensive accessory in an airplane.
For added passenger comfort, the choice of seats to be fitted in the aircraft usually rests with the airlines rather than the manufacturer, just as engine-choice is made by the airline. In such a scenario the added cost of (expensive) seats is normally borne by the airline.
Air India’s preference for Contour seats in the business class was made after taking a survey of several corporate bigwigs including Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata. The Webber seats for the economy class were also selected by a similar process.
Since the Boeing 787s will be replacing Air India’s aging fleet of Airbus A310s on the Gulf, South-East Asia and Far East routes as well as supplement Boeing 777-200’s long range operations, comfortable seating arrangements are one of the priority areas for the airline, currently mired in issues such as a depleting market share and dissatisfaction among a section of its passengers.
The new seats would be arranged in such a manner that passengers would get adequate leg-room even if they are very tall. The special feature of the Boeing 787 is that it comes with an overhead flight crew rest cabin. "This will help us to operate this aircraft on long haul non-stop routes as we can fly in two pairs of crew to comply with the regulations," said Venkat.