Airbus SAS, seeking an edge over Boeing Co. (BA:US) in the contest to supply single-aisle planes to U.S. carriers, has begun pitching a version of its A320s with wider aisle seats that airlines can market for additional revenue.
The planemaker has begun talking to several U.S. carriers about the concept in recent weeks after getting B/E Aerospace Inc. to design a prototype. The A320’s 7 1/2 inch advantage in cabin width over the Boeing 737s would let Toulouse, France- based Airbus offer 20-inch aisle seats by reducing the middle and window seats to 17 inches, equivalent to the 737.
“Airlines are improving their margins by charging for bags, window seats, and food,” said John Leahy, chief operating officer for customers at Airbus. “But what most people really want is space, and that’s what we can offer. Every economy-class aisle seat would be almost as wide as a first class seat on competing aircraft.”
Adding two inches to one third of the seats in an A320 would hand U.S. airlines a marketing tool that they could target at the obese population, which has swelled to more than one- third of U.S. adults, according to Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey. Airbus has sought to win more business with U.S. airlines and ween them off the 737, which remains the world’s most widely flown commercial aircraft.
Fare competition in the U.S. market has led many airlines to seek additional revenue from ancillary services, including seat selection and paying checked-bag fees. A $10 fee, a price Leahy said is realistic for the privilege of a wider seat, would bring in $500 extra on a flight with an A320, which typically has about 50 aisle positions among its 150 seats.
U.S. carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL:US) have sought to cope with the challenge of accommodating large passengers, forcing some obese travelers to buy a second seat when flights are full or other passengers complain about a circumferentially challenged neighbor spilling into their space.
Airbus’s wider A320 cabin has allowed airlines to fit in three, 18-inch seats on either side of the aisle. Boeing’s 737, also with three plus three seating, offers 17 inch seats.
Leahy said the wide seat on the aisle might also attract mothers traveling with small children, or anyone who wanted more room. The concept could eventually be marketed outside the U.S. as well, he said.
“This will become very popular soon in a very short time,” he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse, France at email@example.com
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