Airlines are finding that the business-class seats they have ordered for aircraft they plan to deploy on ultra-long-range routes are heavier than expected and could limit their ability to economically operate flights in excess of 16 hr., according to the chief executive of German seat-maker Recaro Aircraft Seating.

CEO Mark Hiller believes this will be “one of the main topics” aircraft seat manufacturers will face going forward. He expects the issue to result in increased sales of Recaro’s CL6710 business-class seat, which he says offers a lighter-weight alternative to airlines grappling with this problem.

“What I know from several airlines and OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] is the weight of business-class seats right now is a really challenging topic,” Hiller tells Aviation Week. “Some seat development programs ran out of control on weight, and airlines are now exposed to higher weights [than planned].”


He says some competing manufacturers “underestimated” what the eventual weight of their products would be, and says that “more than five airlines have come to us and said they’re really challenged with the weight of their current business-class seats, and they’re making their minds up [about what action to take].

“This is really a topic which is coming up in the industry right now and it’s something the airlines are talking about,” says Hiller. He expects other airlines to come forward, in addition to the five unnamed carriers that have already approached Recaro.

However, airlines and aircraft manufacturers appear less willing to talk publicly about the issues raised by Hiller. A number of carriers, including International Airlines Group and Emirates, declined to comment on the topic. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Lufthansa says: “We have no weight problems, so far, in our cabin designs and, as known, we have not chosen Recaro as our seat manufacturer for the A350.”

Neither Airbus nor Boeing would comment on Recaro’s assertions. A spokesperson for the European airframer says: “In terms of seating developments and specs—especially buyer-furnished equipment—we don’t take sides and so we can’t comment [on] the specs of one seat supplier versus the specs of another. It is the market’s decision [and] we fully support a healthy competition among seat suppliers.”

Similarly, a Boeing spokesperson says that “seats are a customer choice, and they would be in the best position to talk about their preferences and trends.”

Zodiac Aerospace, one of the largest manufacturers of aircraft seats, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Hiller firmly believes that any additional seat weight can be “mission critical” to Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 customers who had planned to use the ultra-long-range versions of these aircraft to operate routes that had previously not been possible.

“Weight has become even more important due to new aircraft and routes—16-plus-hr. flights were not feasible before, so weight has now become more critical,” he says.

The amount of furniture added to certain business-class seats to provide passengers with an increased level of privacy, combined with the fact that business-class cabins are becoming denser as airlines start to move away from offering an additional first-class cabin, has meant that “a couple of [seating] programs did not meet targets” on weight, says Hiller, without naming names.

“Our seat is one of the lightest at 80 kg (176 lb.)—other seats go way beyond 100 kg. If you multiply that by 60 seats it can add up to a 2-3-ton difference,” he says, noting that it is “even worse to be overweight at the front of the plane.”

Recaro’s CL6710 business-class seat entered service with El Al Israel Airlines earlier this year. The carrier has elected to install the model on 16 Boeing 787-8 and -9 aircraft, and the manufacturer says more are planned.

The seat converts into a flat bed and provides direct-aisle access, so passengers do not need to step over their neighbor to leave their seat.

The weight issue highlighted by Hiller does not just relate to the extra fuel burn associated with heavier seats—although he says this, along with environmental concerns, will become a greater problem if oil prices rise. It has more to do with being “restricted” by weight from operating certain ultra-long-range flights.

“Oil price is not the biggest driver. The problem is being able to fly these routes. Some airlines need to change their seats to be able to go for the ultra-long-range routes,” says Hiller, noting that this is driving some carriers to “change their [seat] specification to a lower weight.

“Going forward, there will be more and more point-to-point [flights] and this will put more emphasis on weight in business class,” predicts Hiller.