The next time you're sitting in business class, think on this: the seat itself could cost as much as $80,000.
That's the upper end of the manufacturing cost for the latest super-competitive business class benches – and it doesn't include any upfront costs such as design and research before the seat gets its first stitching.
It's one of the take-outs from a video report in The New York Times which goes behind the scenes at seat manufacturer B/E Aerospace to look at the "aerial arms race" to snare those high-paying passengers.
A few other factoids:
- a new type of seat can take three years to design and produce from scratch
- every feature comes at a cost, because every gram of weight adds to the airplane's fuel bill
- Tom Plant of B/E Aerospace says that airplane seats cop the same degree of 'abuse' as a rental car but are expected to last much longer than your average Hertz hire.
Airlines are reluctant to reveal the actual cost of their seats, regardless of it they're off the shelf models such as the popular Weber Aircraft model 7811 used by Virgin Australia on its Coast to Coast Airbus A330s or fully bespoke creations like Singapore Airlines' 'next generation' products.
But here's a drill down into the cost of the typical airline seat.
First class: $500,000
Plant tells the NYT that first class seats can cost from US$250,000 per suite to US$500,000 for a suit e– yes, a cool half million dollars for that slab of sky-high real estate.
Luke Hawes, a director of leading UK aviation design firm PriestmanGoode, estimates a typical first class cabin of 12 seats costs around A$3 million.
"It’s quite an indulgence just for airlines to have a first class cabin" Hawes tells Australian Business Traveller. "But then, many first class passengers have a very indulgent lifestyle” he reasons.
Hawes and his team have crafted first class cabins for Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and Swiss, and also worked on the original concept designs for the Airbus A380 before it even started flying.
Yet Hawes is quick to point out that first class is not just about the seat – it’s about “a design that’s very consistent with the rest of the passenger’s journey."
Business class: $80,000
B/E Aerospace's Plant pegs business class seats at US$30,000 to $80,000, depending on how much comfort the passenger gets and how much hidden complexity goes into providing that comfort.
Domestic business class seats are cheaper than long-distance international business class – the US FAA has previously estimated these starting at $7,500 for a single-aisle workhorse like the Boeing 737-800s of Qantas and Virgin Australia.
Economy class: $2,300
The same FAA report from a few years back pegged economy seats at a relatively bargain-basement $2,300.
After all, at the back of the bus it's all about the numbers – maximising the profit from every bum on every seat, beginning with the cost of that seat itself.
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