Air China

Star Alliance develops common long-haul economy seat for its member airlines

Airline alliances so far have been about codeshares, trans-atlantic and trans-pacific joint ventures, reciprocal frequent flyer programs, shared lounges and in some cases shared airport terminals (a.k.a. ‘move under one roof’). Star Alliance, the largest of the three global airline alliances, is now adding a new dimension to alliance collaboration by launching a joint long-haul economy seat.

Star Alliance has selected aircraft interior manufacturer B/E Aerospace as the development partner for its common seat programme. Lufthansa, Austrian and Air China will be the initial member carriers to install the seats on their long-haul fleets, with first deliveries scheduled to begin in 2012.

The joint procurement initiative is designed to offer all Star Alliance members a standardised base for their long-haul economy seats. B/E Aerospace is developing a base and advance version of the seat and airlines will pick their own colors, cushions and IFE system. According to a Star Alliance spokesman, the goal of the joint procurement initiative “is not to come up with a standardised economy-class seat across Star Alliance, but rather to select a seat base that those carriers who wish to participate can use and adapt to their needs in terms of color, fabric, in-flight entertainment systems, etc.”

The vendor selection process was coordinated by Star Alliance and included initial market research along with joint customer trials conducted in both China and Germany earlier in 2011. Air China was among the Star members participating in the seat study and selected 200 of its Phoenix Miles members to test three seat concepts from various manufacturers at a seating simulation zone set up at Beijing Capital Airport in March 2011. According to Air China each participant spent 1.5 hours testing the seats, before completing questionnaires on aspects such as comfort, design and possible improvements.
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China’s airlines upgrade cabins to increase their international competitiveness

The prospect of an airline from Mainland China joining the top 10 ranks of the Skytrax world’s best airlines list may not sound that far off, if one takes into account that the ranking is dominated by Asian carriers, including ‘Chinese’ carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Airlines from China still have some way to go to improve their international competitiveness, but two of China’s largest airlines, China Southern and Air China, have recently embarked on major upgrade programs. Meanwhile, Hainan Airlines, China’s fourth largest airline group, recently has been awarded a 5-star status by Skytrax (although this status can be debated).

Air China
Air China is China’s flag carrier and third largest airline, as well as the world’s most profitable and largest carrier by market value. The airline’s major hubs are Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu and as of December 2010 the Star Alliance-member operated flights to 47 international and 91 domestic cities with a fleet of 393 aircraft. Compared with China’s other major carriers, China Southern and China Eastern, Air China leads in terms of international destinations, which make up 50 percent of its routes, followed by China Eastern (30%) and China Southern Airlines (25%). Air China holds interests in Cathay Pacific (29.99%), Air Macau (80.9%), Shenzhen Airlines (51%) and Shandong Airlines.

Cabin revitalisation programme
In mid-July, Air China took delivery of its first Boeing 777-300ER, which features the carrier’s new premium products, including 180-degree flat bed seats in business (2:2:2 configuration) and first class (1:2:1 configuration) and a self-service bar, located between First and Business. The seats in Air China’s ‘Forbidden Pavilion’ First Class are Contour’s ‘Venus’ seating product with sliding privacy screens for centre seats and an adjustable ottoman that provides a seat for a guest as well as extra stowage. More images of the cabin can be found here).
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