Singapore-based SilkAir will upgrade its 737 MAX fleet to offer lie-flat seats in business class. The carrier joins a growing number of airlines that sees flat bed seating as financially viable on their smaller planes. The trend started with JetBlue installing the Vantage seat from Thompson Aero on a subfleet of A321 aircraft to launch its Mint service in 2015. SilkAir will also install Vantage on its aircraft. Retrofits are slated to begin in 2020.
For SilkAir the move helps to align the on-board product more closely with parent carrier Singapore Airlines. That group of airlines is working to streamline its offerings and operations, part of which includes SilkAir folding back into the Singapore Airlines operation. Scoot will be the surviving brand for Low Cost Carrier services. Plans for the cabin retrofits and management structure changes were first tipped last May; the selection of Vantage as the seating vendor became firm this week. The 2019 MAX deliveries for SilkAir will not have the Vantage seats installed from the factory. They will, however, be retrofit when the program begins next year.
A growing trend
Singapore Airlines/SilkAir joins JetBlue and flyDubai in placing the Vantage seats on their single-aisle aircraft, the latter also on the 737 MAX. Panamanian carrier Copa is also adding flat beds to its MAX fleet, though with the Collins Aerospace (previously B/E Aerospace) Diamond seat. All of these carriers are betting on strong demand for a premium product on the longer routes flown by these newer aircraft. US legacy carriers started the trend with 757s across the Atlantic Ocean but the current round of flat-bed growth takes the concept significantly further.
Thompson recently publicly unveiled its Vantage Solo seat, under development for several years. It delivers direct aisle access and a flat bed for all seats in a single-aisle business class cabin. The release from Singapore Airlines calls for “new lie-flat Business Class seats in a forward-facing staggered layout,” however, and that likely precludes the Solo from being the seats flying on these retrofits. The Solo continues to wait for a customer announcement. JetBlue is known to be reconsidering its cabin design on the A321neo fleet that will likely encompass the LR model for Transatlantic operations. The Solo could work nicely for that product revamp.