Airbus Adds Premium Economy A350 Seats in Upgrade Option

Airbus SAS is adding a second premium economy-class seat to its A350 long-haul jet, responding to airlines fine-tuning their cabin layout to accommodate coach passengers looking for an upgrade on the most basic services.

EADS Sogerma plans an offering based on its Celeste seat, Airbus said in a statement today. The product broadens the option from a seat by Zodiac Aerospace, the first provider of a premium economy-class berth that Airbus has included in the A350 catalog from which airlines can select their interior.

“The gap between business class and economy has been increasing, so there is an opportunity for an additional cabin segment,” Zuzana Hrnkova, head of interior marketing for the Toulouse, France-based aircraft maker, said in an interview.

Airlines have adjusted their cabins to meet changing passenger demands, with business class getting an upgrade to seats that fold into fully flat beds and premium economy luring travelers with perks and comfort that goes beyond the cheapest tickets. The number of operators with premium economy has almost doubled in the last three years, Hrnkova said.

The Zodiac seat is 19 inches (48 centimeters) wide and can allow 8-abreast seating, the seatmaker said. Features include foot and headrest and individual reading lights. The Zodiac seat is debuting at the aircraft interiors expo in Hamburg this week, Hrnkova said.

While premium economy seats are gaining attention, “innovation is really focused on the business class,” which can generate as much as 50 percent of revenue while only accounting for as much as 20 percent of seats, Hrnkova said.

Airbus has sought to limit the cabin offerings on the A350 by tightly controlling the catalog from which airlines can choose. That’s a lessons learned from the A380 superjumbo, where carriers were given carte blanche to configure the aircraft, creating design challenges that led to delays.

If suppliers want specific changes, they must appeal to Airbus in an effort to balance the need to keep the offering fresh and limit complexity, Hrnkova said. To simplify changes, Airbus has defined standard interfaces suppliers need to meet.

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