Analysis SilkAir Singapore Airlines Star Alliance

SilkAir’s new Boeing 737 flat-bed Business Class seat options

We take a look at what narrow-body flat-bed Business Class seats are on the market for SilkAir's 737 MAX planes

flydubai 737 MAX Biz 2 (flydubai)

Hot on the heels of revealing and introducing to service the new 2017 Suites and Business Class seats on the newer A380s, Singapore Airlines followed up with two more new seat types last year.

These of course were the 2018 Regional Business Class, now featuring on the 787-10 and A350 Regional, and the enhanced 2018 Premium Economy Class seats which now feature on the A350 ULRs flying non-stop to and from the USA, and include some solo window seat options for the first time in that cabin.

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The 2018 Business class now features on the A350 Regional. (Photo: Adelaide Airport)

2019 in comparison promises to be a much quieter year for the group in the cabin design department, with one possible exception.

There has still been no word on the lie-flat seat choice for SilkAir’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, an additional 12 of which will be delivered this year and all of which will ultimately transfer to the SIA fleet in 2020, adorned with the parent company’s paint scheme.

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SilkAir’s Boeing 737 MAX fleet is destined for Singapore Airlines. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

We don’t have any certainty at this stage about when the seat design will be revealed, though refits will be happening by 2020, with new aircraft still being delivered that year presumably arriving with the new seats installed.

Other enhancements to Silk’s 737 MAX aircraft prior to the SIA merger will include seat-back IFE systems in Economy Class, for consistency with the mainline fleet.

The options

Singapore Airlines has had plenty of time to think about this. When they ordered the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft for SilkAir they deliberately made the Business Class cabin larger than before.

They then fitted the same number of recliner seats with lots of (frankly unnecessary) extra legroom, and lost a row of Economy Class in the process, compared to the identically sized Boeing 737-800.

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25% more legroom was introduced on SilkAir’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in Business Class compared with the 737-800. (Photo: SilkAir)

That means they must have had some idea how much space was needed for a flat-bed Business Class design for a while now, as the 737 MAX aircraft will be the only ones transferring to Singapore Airlines in 2020 and internally they would have known this at the time.

Thompson Aero Vantage Single Aisle (flydubai, JetBlue)

flydubai was the first airline to install flat-bed seats on the 737 MAX, in the form of a modified Thompson Aero Vantage seat – the Vantage Single Aisle.

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Business Class on the flydubai 737 MAX. (Image: flydubai)

These don’t all have direct aisle access, as they are configured in a 2-2, 1-1, 2-2 layout, for a total of 10 seats. Interestingly, the bulkhead separating Business Class from Economy in SilkAir’s 737 MAX aircraft is in exactly the same place as it is on flydubai’s 737 MAX.

While that doesn’t prove anything about the future seats, it means there should certainly be no issue installing the same seat design if they wish to.

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How Thompson’s Vantage Single Aisle arrangement could look in the SilkAir / Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX. (Image: Thompson Aero Seating)

Such a configuration would mean two very much sought-after ‘throne’ seats, ideal for solo Business travellers, with plenty of additional storage space. Indeed if the airline goes with this product for the 737 we suspect those ‘throne’ seats may be reserved for allocation to PPS Club members until 48 hours before departure, like certain popular Business Class seats in the long-haul fleet.

A similar layout is offered on JetBlue‘s ‘Mint’ class, though they stretch the configuration to 16 seats on the larger A321 aircraft, which won’t be feasible for SilkAir.

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JetBlue ‘Mint’ class. (Photo: JetBlue)
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‘Mint’ class on the JetBlue A321. (Photo: JetBlue)

Rockwell Collins Diamond (Copa Airlines)

If retaining 12 seats in the Business Class cabin is SilkAir’s goal, the Rockwell Collins Diamond seat in a 2-2 configuration is a possible option. This already features on the Copa Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft. That aircraft is slightly longer so they get 16 of these seats on their jets, but we think SilkAir could potentially squeeze 12 into its 737 MAX Business Class floorspace.

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Copa Airlines Business Class on the 737 MAX 9. (Photo: Copa Airlines)

If you’ve flown on a United Airlines Boeing 787-9 between Singapore and the US West Coast, this seat may look very familiar to you. The downside here is no direct aisle access for window passengers, and potential privacy issues unless a large divider is incorporated between the seats.

Zodiac Cirrus (American Airlines)

Finally there are options offering direct aisle access for every Business Class passenger in a 1-1 layout.

American Airlines operate such a configuration in First Class on their domestic Airbus A321 aircraft, using the popular Zodiac Cirrus seat.

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American Airlines A321 First Class. (Image: American Airlines)

This is a tried and tested design used by many airlines, predominantly on wide-body aircraft.

Thompson Aero VantageSolo (new)

SilkAir could also go with a brand new design – the Thompson Aero VantageSolo seat. This all aisle-facing option has not yet been installed by any airline, and is specifically designed for use in Airbus and Boeing narrow-body aircraft.

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Thompson’s Vantage Solo seat depicted on a 737 / A320. (Photo: Thompson Aero Seating)

All seats have an integrated IFE system and convert into fully flat beds.

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Thompson’s Vantage Solo seat depicted on a 737 / A320. (Photo: Thompson Aero Seating)

The layout is advertised as possible “from 33 inches seat pitch”. That’s measuring directly front-to-back, the angled nature of this seat of course means the actual leg space available in this flat-bed seat is much more than that. Seat width is set at 21 inches.

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Four rows of Thompson’s Vantage Solo seats in a 1-1 configuration could be accommodated in the SilkAir / Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX. (Image: Thompson Aero Seating)

With the space SilkAir has to play with in its 737 MAX Business Class section, four rows could be accommodated at a more spacious 36″ pitch per row. That would mean only 8 Business Class seats however, a big drop from the current 12.

Which will they choose?

Assuming one of the above options is the seat SilkAir / Singapore Airlines will go with on the 737 MAX, our money is on the Thompson Vantage Single Aisle seats, with 10 seats in a similar layout to flydubai’s 737 MAX 8.

We don’t have any inside information, but aside from the cabin floorspace already being a perfect fit with the flydubai layout, by a process of elimination there are aspects we believe SIA probably won’t like about the other seats:

  • The inward-facing herringbone layout of the Thompson VantageSolo seat feels a bit awkward, with your back to the window. You are also facing all the Economy Class passengers almost head-on as they walk down the aisle during boarding, which we think would feel weird. The seat count with a 1-1 layout would also be very low.
  • The Zodiac Cirrus seats, as used by American, are a bit too ‘Cathay’ for Singapore Airlines (in fact this is the exact seat Cathay also uses). The same capacity issue would arise, with only 8 seats likely to fit in the current space.
  • The Rockwell Collins Diamond seat, chosen by Copa on their latest 737s, would probably offer the highest capacity, but Singapore Airlines has always shied away from non fuselage-aligned seating in Business Class. To be honest this one also looks a bit ‘cheap’ for SIA. There’s only so much you can do with customisation here, and these seats just don’t ooze ‘luxury’ to us.

We’ve spoken a lot about the current bulkhead position between Business Class and Economy Class on SilkAir’s 737 MAX aircraft. Actually it isn’t the most difficult thing to move, with the airline potentially maintaining 12 seats in Business Class whichever layout it picks by simply shifting that bulkhead rearwards.

This of course would sacrifice even more Economy Class seats, already cut from 150 seats in the 737-800 to 144 seats in the MAX, so we don’t think the airline will be keen to do this.

Summary

With 12 brand new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft set to join the SilkAir fleet this year (as 737-800s progressively shift to Scoot), and the full merger with SIA tentatively set for 2020, it won’t be long before Singapore Airlines reveal the seat design set to be fitted to these planes from next year.

Aircraft arriving this year are unlikely to feature the new product, with the airline stating that lead times required by the seat suppliers are the basis of the 2020 timescale. Still we hope and expect the details of the new seats themselves will be revealed by late 2019, even though we may have to wait until next year to actually see the new seats themselves.

Whatever new product is chosen it will help keep SIA at the forefront regionally, with Malaysia Airlines also announcing last year that it will install a flat-bed business class product, with each seat featuring direct aisle access, on its 737 MAX aircraft being delivered from 2021.

We’ll be keeping our ear to the ground and as soon as we have further details, or an announcement is made, you’ll be the first to know.

Which Business Class seat option do you like the look of for SilkAir’s 737 MAX? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Cover Image: flydubai)

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