APEX Insight: Getting any new seat to fly is hard work. Getting an atypical seat design to fly is a real challenge. But no progress can come from discounting blue-sky ideas before they get their chance in the testing lab. In the first installment of our series on aircraft seats, we look at Rebel Aero’s S:two economy seat, which offers two positioning options for optimal passenger comfort.
Among this year’s Crystal Cabin Award winners was a seat that bears little resemblance to the seats we find on airplanes today; instead, it looks like one we might expect to see at the movie theatre. It’s a wild idea, but with economy cabin comforts increasingly centered on improved in-flight entertainment, perhaps it’s not so far off the mark.
Independent seat manufacturer Rebel Aero’s S:two can function in multiple positions: as a standard flat seat and as a booster seat, which allows passengers to change their position, stretch their legs and exit the row more easily. “The folding booster seat was inspired by my need as a passenger to find ‘comfort’ in an aircraft seat,” says Gareth Burks, Rebel Aero’s managing director. “Discomfort is easily defined by the experience of pain, whereas comfort can only really be defined as not experiencing discomfort. We determined that having the ability to move and change position would alleviate the feeling of discomfort and therefore give every passenger a comfortable experience.”
“We determined that having the ability to move and change position would alleviate the feeling of discomfort and therefore give every passenger a comfortable experience.” — Gareth Burks, Rebel Aero
The Pros and Cons of “Different”
The challenge for Rebel’s booster seat is that it looks completely different from what passengers are used to. Burks focuses on the pros: the booster gives passengers the option to sit upright for a while and to move within their own space in a way that relieves strain on legs and thighs. Going to the lavatory also becomes easier; no more trying to climb over a stranger’s thighs, or having two people get out of their seats for the passenger by the window to get out.
Rebel meets airlines’ more practical concerns with a lightweight seat that requires little maintenance and has a reduced component parts count, which also diminishes the amount of spares required in inventory. Rebel also addresses the requirements for basic operational safety compliance. Life vests, for example, can still be stowed underneath a flip-up seat. They fit inside the front of the booster seat and are accessible with a pull-tab, like other life vests on the market.
But the biggest challenge for this design is still ahead; it must pass required 16G dynamic testing, which can be expensive and challenging. Dynamic testing requires a dedicated sled test lab, but there are a limited amount of these around the world. Developed to simulate crash impact at 16 times the force of gravity, this phase of the development process can literally make or break any seat design.
“So far the S:two seat has been viewed by over 25 airlines who have all asked to be the first ones to know when we pass our 16G dynamic test,” Burks says. However, before a seat can fly, it must receive Technical Standard Order (TSO) approval as well. This approval confirms that the seat is ready to be installed on board aircraft, and that it has passed dynamic tests, fire testing and a list of other safety requirements. Rebel is also beginning its application for European Technical Standard Order (ETSO) approval with the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA). “We are currently midway through our ETSO certification, which is a milestone that all airlines are waiting for us to pass before they will talk seriously about new orders, so hopefully you will be seeing it soon,” says Burks.
Off to a Good Start
Booster prototypes were well received by the industry. Beyond the honor of winning the Crystal Cabin Award for Passenger Comfort Hardware, Burks tells us that airline officials praised the seat on the Aircraft Interiors Expo show floor, too. “Every airline [official] that has seen or sat in the seat has been extremely complimentary about all the unique features that we have designed,” Burks says. “In some cases, there probably have been too many new ideas for some airlines to take in!” ETSO approval will be key for airlines to take in all of these new ideas, and to bring Rebel’s concept on board.