Background: Now after almost two years and the brainpower of four unique and capable design/development/manufacturing organizations (BE Aerospace, Formation Design Group, Panasonic and, of course, Teague), the much anticipated JAZZ seat is about to hit the street… or should we say, “the rails”. If you look up the definition of the word “jazz,” you will find words like, “radically different” which sets up our sense of what the recent interview with Neil James, Executive Director of Corporate Sales and Product Management, Panasonic… was about.

“Well, we started with a clean sheet of paper,” began Neil, and then he went on to tell IFExpress how the Jazz seat/IFE design team set about some 18 months ago, with one goal – to design and build the next generation passenger seat and symbiotic IFEC solution for aircraft seating. During our interview, Neil proudly implied that they had achieved their goal… and then some. Perhaps better said, the goal is as follows: The corporate team worked with our partners to develop a superior, long-haul, economy class seat that would a) integrate the IFE into the seat structure, b) enhance the customer experience in an immersive and comfortable experience, c) reduce total weight, and d) reduce complexity. When IFExpress asked Mr. James why the design team elected to target economy class as their first initiative he said, “The biggest opportunity out there is in economy class. It is where the most people travel today. And we want to bring a touch of the premium experience to those traveling in economy.” He went on to say, “Panasonic has been pretty successful in the IFE industry today and we want to make sure the message is out there that we are not standing still. We are proactive. Panasonic is doing and funding these things without a current customer. We are investing in the industry and its future.

Before we describe the JAZZ seat/IFEC solution in specifics, we should address some of the issues that exist with the passenger experience on a jet plane today. Lets just say that in coach class, it could be better. Perhaps the biggest issue today is that there is not much room – legroom, knee room, and psychological room between you and your seat, and between you and the seat in front of you. Our interviewer referred to “the lack of vertical space.” While the new design provides more than just the illusion generated by the new black color, the mechanical features deliver more to the passenger in function and perception.

From the airline perspective, a new seat should be lighter, slimmer for more of the dedicated available space to be for flying guests. They should be less complex and more reliable… and if they do suffer a failure, they should be easy and straightforward to fix… after all, they are the part of the airline that is in contact with passengers longer that any other part of the service… and your trip.

Additionally, the entertainment screen could always be bigger and easier to see, there could be more adjustable lighting, there could be more and easier power availability, there could better storage for passengers devices. Issues like spillage and sliding (think: turbulence) and table size and storage are always at issue. Connectivity could always be better, and if your device, no matter who made it, could be charged without a special jack, that would help with the plug wiring nightmare. Tray tables could be more passenger-friendly and they could be better designed to secure cups with fluids. In other words, the airplane seat space needs be “adjustable” to fit your needs and the seats could always be better designed to fit “you”.

Basically, the team shrunk the seat while fitting it in the same dimensional footprint, and at the same time improved almost every feature and function of an aircraft seat… while keeping, or improving, seat safety and egress. We note that the weight savings are due to the integration and work between BE and Panasonic. The monitor and seat were designed with the attachment points built in. This eliminates additional brackets and weight from the system. In addition this modular design allows for fast removal of the monitor with a single screw. Here is a real-world definition of a “win-win”. While there is not enough room in an article like this to outline and describe each new feature of this industry changing development, here, in outline form, is a rundown of the feature list. Thus, you can see the advantages of this design above the competition, and at the same time, obviously note the improvements and benefits. Here is a quick look:

MECHANICAL

  • Two new internal seatback designs were developed for this project – called Sandbox and Beachfront. These offerings differ in mechanical features that give preference to the tray and/or storage. Both designs are mandrel free. An anthropomorphic study set the stage for a “new” back shape design. Another way to look at all this development is that the seat occupies less volume – virtually the same width and height, it is just “thinner”.
  • Redesigned cushion with new compression structure technology
  • An adjustable seat tray and cup holder – folding option
  • Peripheral station/storage in seatback – patented “Beachfront” option
  • Increased “knee room” mechanical design
  • There are two streamlined seatboxes: a SPM in the seat pan and a SIB on the leg.
  • An innovative seat cover
  • Lighter weight means less fuel burn – enough said!

ELECTRICAL/ELECTRONIC

  • New personal LED mood lighting control at the seat
  • A full screen touch remote display
  • New, 13.3, 1080p, LED display/touchscreen – integrated into an edge-to-edge glass seatback display monitor
  • Built-in attendant call, AC power, USB ports, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, and wireless device charging

PSYCHOLOGICAL

  • The design included the concept of “more vertical space”
  • A bigger video screen will better replicate the home experience
  • Simplified installation maintenance and upgrades will change the airline and passenger view of long haul seating
  • More feature control, storage, space will help reduce the high level of aircraft travel angst that exists today
  • There is psychological value in a clean new look

All this teamwork and disruptive design technology will virtually (and physically) improve the flight experience – what’s not to like about JAZZ?

Look at it this way, if you have the same number of aircraft seats in a row, each passenger now has more room than with older seats – it looks better, it feels better, and it performs better. Another way to look at it, if the seat legs are installed in the same place, the seat has “shrunk” in actual dimensions giving you more room – at the same time the IFE has improved, storage and user interface has improved, thus improving your physical interface to the plane.

One caution, a thinner seat does not always mean a more comfortable seat. The Panasonic folks tell us that the seat comfort is a result of extensive studies on the seat shape that have been optimized for comfort on the seatback as well as the seat pan, while the cushion material plays a part too. We can’t wait to try it out.

When the IFExpress team asked Panasonic about the nature of the relationship between the seat vendor and the IFE vendor, we were told that the relationship is not agnostic. Each company owns their own IP and can work with other vendors as airlines demand. In fact, they are looking at working on future projects with traditional vendors, as well as, new entrants. Additionally, IFExpress anticipates this design concept to spread to the premium classes in the near future.

As an aside, last year at the Passenger Experience Conference prior to AIX 2014 Devin Liddell of Teague gave a presentation on the power of partnerships and how they were the most powerful currency at our industry’s fingertips. In other words, the team-made product is bigger than the sum of its parts. At the time he stated in his presentation that the capacity to partner has a big impact on influencing the customer and that we, as an industry, need to think about co-making, not just co-marketing. In our opinion that is exactly what Panasonic and the rest of the team have done with JAZZ.

The new JAZZ seat will be at AIX in Hamburg as the early design has been entered in the Aircraft Interiors Crystal Cabin Awards – we expect they will do well. (Editor’s Note: While JAZZ was quietly debuted at AIX 2014 then rolled out at CES 2015, the first delivery seat group may very well be a variant of the unit at AIX 2015.)