When it comes to flying, seats generally face forward. There are a few that face backward, typically reserved for premium cabins, though coach versions are not completely unheard of. And then there are the sideways seats.
Typically found in business class cabins, seats set at an angle of 18-45 degrees offset from the aircraft centerline help deliver lie-flat beds with direct aisle access for all travelers. Getting to the extremes of that range, seats like the Stelia Opera and Thompson Aero Vantage Solo can deliver that sort of product on a single-aisle aircraft as well.
Regulators previously established guidelines for testing seats in the 18-45 degree offset range.
Section 25.785(d) requires that each occupant of a seat installed at an angle of more than 18 degrees, relative to bow-to-stern airplane cabin centerline, must be protected from head injury using a seatbelt and an energy-absorbing rest that supports the arms, shoulders, head, and spine; or using a seatbelt and shoulder harness designed to prevent the head from contacting any injurious object.
We now know that at least one seating company wants to go further than that. Nearly three years ago – in January 2019 – Boeing applied for permission to install seats at a 49 degree angle on the 737-10. Today the FAA published guidelines regarding what the necessary testing for that configuration would entail.
The proposed Boeing Model 737–10 airplane single-occupant, oblique seat installation with airbag devices and 3- point restraints is novel such that the current requirements do not adequately address airbag devices and protection of the occupant’s neck, spine, torso, and legs for seating configurations that are positioned at an angle of 49 degrees from the airplane centerline. The proposed seating configuration installation angle is beyond the installation-design limits of current special conditions issued for seat positions at angles between 18 degrees and 45 degrees.
Specifications on the testing process are incredibly detailed, down to the spacing between the knees of the anthropomorphic test dummy in the seat and the type of clothing it wears.
Moreover, the criteria for the 49 degree seat appear to match those of the 18-45 degree options. Essentially passengers can assume that they are just as safe under crash conditions in the more oblique layout, as it will meet the same impact requirements.
The only details missing are which airline and which seating vendor asked for this certification.
United Airlines is a leading contender from the airlines with the –10 on order. As far back as 2019 the MAX 10 was tipped to replace United’s 757-200 premium transcon fleet. Delivery timing on these planes not withstanding, a direct aisle access bed in the forward cabin would be a nice win for passengers and the airline alike.
Copa and flydubai also put premium seats on their 737s. Flydubai even has a version on some of its MAX flying today. Other customers for the type seem less likely, but anything is possible.
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