Nearly a decade after Hank Scott founded Molon Labe with the goal of disrupting the economy seating market passengers will finally get to fly on the company’s staggered seat design. Some 20 ship sets of the “S1” staggered, short-range model are contracted for an A320 operator in China. The news was unveiled at the Future Travel Experience Global conference in Las Vegas this week. As with many deals in China the arrangement includes a local joint venture partner and a lack of details around who the specific carrier is, pending an announcement from the airline directly. But the contract is signed and deliveries of the kit are ongoing.
Hank Scott, CEO of Molon Labe, says at #FTEGlobal that the company has a customer to be announced soon for its seats, some 8 iterations after it started with the staggered/slide seats. That's a pretty huge deal. #PaxEx pic.twitter.com/iuuR6bDTf8
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) September 11, 2018
The key value proposition of the staggered seat is a wider offering for all travelers and an exceptionally wide center seat. This is accomplished by lowering the seat pan for the middle seat and sliding it slightly backwards from the outside pair. While the seat pans are identical width across the three (18.1″ on an A320 family layout) the seat back is three inches wider in the middle. Moreover, because of the arm rest layout the functional shoulder width available to the middle seat passenger ends up at five inches wider than the aisle or window seats.
The seats are light, coming in as low as 8.9kg per passenger in the short haul configuration. This bests even the Recaro BL3710 by more than a kilogram per passenger. Carbon fiber in the arm rests is an option to bring the weight down, though that depends on airline choice as the cost/weight balance is considered.
While the staggered design does take up slightly more space front to back Scott notes that the thinner seat design limits the impact to on board seating density. In a relatively high density 186 seat layout on an A320 the S1 staggered design requires the last three rows to lose an inch of pitch compared to a more traditional layout. While not ideal the company hopes that the wider seats make up for that decrease.
In it for the Long Haul
Scott is justifiably excited by the deal but is not resting on this initial success. The company is delivering demo versions of the seats to airlines around the globe and continues to participate in RFP processes with airlines. He notes that an A320-family operator in the Americas is considering the short haul option and a long haul opportunity may arise with a Boeing operator.
The “S2” long haul seat offers several unique features and improvements beyond the staggered layout that make it attractive in the market. The headrest features a “wing” on one side, similar to the fixed wing option Etihad introduced in 2014. Unlike that model, however, the Molon Labe version features a center pivot point allowing the passenger to lean to either side. It also adds a contour designed to cradle the neck rather than just a wing to lean against.
From an entertainment perspective the S2 model allows for a 15.6″ screen in the outside pair of seats and a monstrous 18.5″ screen for the center seat. Depending on the seat pitch this may prove to be too large a screen for passengers, but it is an option on board.
Whither the Slip-Slide Seat?
The staggered seat offers a unique approach to the cabin layout but it is not the initial plan Molon Labe entered the market with. The company started with a sliding seat design that allows the aisle seat to slide over the middle seat, making for a wider aisle. It also presents challenges with additional moving parts and concerns about the boarding process and sequencing of passengers on to the plane. It remains unsold in the market but Scott believes it could still succeed in a limited deployment. He is talking with airlines about deploying the S3 Side-Slip seat for just the exit rows or just the first few rows of the cabin. This would potentially deliver some of the boarding speed benefits without the weight penalty or the complexity of having the slip-slide at every row.
Fortunately for airlines the footprint of the Slip-Slide seat is identical to the non-sliding short haul model. The two designs can be fitted in a cabin concurrently, giving the airline more flexibility with the product.