The effects of COVID-19 on the aviation industry have meant one thing for certain as far as Singapore Airlines is concerned – fleet rationalisation. A recent review of aircraft requirements and the future operating network has resulted in what will surely be the highest number of cabin products lost from the network in a single year.
Love them or loathe them, no fewer than four seat types are a thing of the past for the national carrier, which has been forced to write down older aircraft, as a result of what looks to be a slow post-COVID recovery phase into a leaner shape and size for the future SIA.
Here’s our first in a four-part series where we look back at each seat type retired in 2020, with this focus on the 2009 Regional Business Class model.
Probably the only seat type almost no one will miss is the older Regional Business Class, in a 2-2-2 layout and first introduced with the arrival of the carrier’s leased Airbus A330s in February 2009.
The seats were later fitted to Boeing 777-300s followed by 777-200s (the non-ER variants in each case), becoming a regular fixture not only on regional flights but even some longer overnight services to and from Japan and Australia.
Before we go into more detail on the Singapore Airlines version, let’s take a look at where the seat itself came from.
The seat design
Singapore Airlines was the launch customer for this particular seat – the Weber 7118 manufactured by Weber Aircraft, LLC. based in Texas, USA.
The company was later rebranded Zodiac Seats US and then specialised mainly in Economy Class and Premium Economy Class seats (including SIA’s new 2018 Premium Economy seat fitted to the seven Airbus A350 ULRs).
Zodiac’s Business Class seats were then predominantly produced by Zodiac Seats France, while Zodiac Seats UK specialised in both First and Business Class seats.
The company is now called Safran Seats (owned by Airbus), since Safran bought Zodiac in late 2018, but it probably goes without saying that the old Weber 7811 model is no longer part of the lineup!
Key features of the seat, which was relatively pioneering at the time for a regional Business Class product, included:
- An angle-flat bed
- A 15.4″ tilting IFE screen
- A recessed drinks holder for each passenger in the centre armrest
- Storage within easy reach including bottle holders, magazine stowage and two fold-down lockable compartments for each passenger
- Direct aisle access for 2 out of every 3 seats
The Singapore Airlines 2009 RJ seat
Singapore Airlines went for a tan beige customisation, with all-leather seats in an much warmer tone than Weber’s marketing shots made appear possible!
Here’s how SIA marketed the product when it first launched.
This was the last of the airline’s Business Class seats without direct aisle access, though that downside will sadly rear its head again in the coming months with the introduction of ex-SilkAir Boeing 737s into the fleet, the initial batch of which will retain their original seats, with only a ‘cosmetic’ cabin upgrade.Fun fact: In March 2018, just before the first Boeing 787-10 was delivered with the new Regional Business Class seats, the older 2009 RJ seat was installed on 35 SIA aircraft (32% of the operating fleet), with an incredible 1,222 of the seats fitted in total.
It was all about connectivity
A big focus in the airline’s promotional drive for this new Business Class seat was towards IFE and connectivity.
12 years doesn’t seem that long ago, but believe it or not “inclined-flat” seats and IFE that connected to your personal device were fairly revolutionary, especially for regional flights!
The big selling point was allowing you to connect to the IFE system using your iPad, iPhone or laptop and stream the content onto the ‘big screen’, available not only in Business Class but also Economy Class on the A330s too – a world first according to SIA.
Technology moves fast and the system itself didn’t age too gracefully.
The limited in-flight entertainment selection on a 15.4″ standard definition screen, likely quite revolutionary in 2009, became a drawback of these seats in subsequent years.
The beds weren’t flat
In its advertising for the product, Singapore Airlines had also highlighted what became a major criticism of these seats – the beds didn’t go fully flat.
In fact the 2009 RJ seats reclined to an annoying 172 degrees, almost flat but not quite! A fold-out metal footrest was installed at the base of each seat, but that usually wasn’t enough to prevent you sliding down towards the foot well in bed mode, as frequent flyers will attest to!
The foot well itself was also quite confined for taller passengers or those with larger feet.
Privacy was poor
Privacy was another issue which became a criticism of this seat, as direct aisle access and more secluded alternatives became popular in the mid to late 2010s.
The 2009 RJ seats were in a 2-2-2 configuration, but did have a small pull-out divider between each seat pair, though it didn’t extend far and therefore only marginally improved privacy.
Compare that to the the large privacy wings and full-height dividers between the middle seats on the latest 2018 Regional Business Class seats, and the difference is a world apart.
On the plus side the 2009 seats were very sociable for a couple travelling together. For those with work to do, however, they became far less productive in recent years as newer aircraft in the fleet were fitted with Wi-Fi capability, never installed on the Airbus A330s or older Boeing 777s.
Storage was good
One thing the 2009 Regional Business Class did have in its favour was storage.
In fact there was more useful and easily accessible storage in this seat than there is in the new 2018 Regional Business Class that has replaced it.
Two decent-sized compartments below the IFE screen were great for items like your passport, boarding card and smaller mobile devices.
These had sturdy but unusual metal slide locks to keep them closed (red = unlocked, green = locked), the same ones fitted in aircraft galleys for the cabin crew to secure some compartments! This is the only passenger seat we’ve ever seen them used on.
A recess at the seat side next to the power sockets was the perfect place for your laptop, iPad and even some reading materials if you wanted to keep them close to hand.
At the front of the seat in between each seat pair at leg level there was even more storage, ideal for a phone or smaller mobile device, with a void cut out for the power cord to pass through.
There was even a coat hook at each seat. I don’t think we’ve ever seen these used by passengers, but it’s probably one of the only components that made its way in an almost identical format onto the new 2018 RJ models!
Overall, while there were plenty of other drawbacks, no one was complaining about having a lack of storage opportunities when flying in the 2009 Regional Business Class.
Here are the key stats for a seat we’re probably all happy has been resigned to SIA’s history books, shown alongside its replacement – the 2018 Regional Business Class.
|2009 RJ||2018 RJ|
|Pitch||63″ – 65″||44″|
|Screen Size||15.4″ SD||18″ HD|
|Power Sockets||1 UNI + 2 USB Sockets||1 UNI + 2 USB Sockets|
In 2017, Singapore Airlines started reupholstering the Business Class seats on some of its Airbus A330s and Boeing 777-200s with a dark brown leather, which we flew with twice and definitely preferred over the original tan / beige.
By the end we’re not sure how many aircraft had the dark brown seats, but we understand at least 10 Airbus A330s had been refitted, including 9V-SSD which flew us back from Bali in November 2019.
SIA wasn’t the only operator
Singapore Airlines may have debuted the seat, but the Weber 7811 was an off-the-shelf product available to any airline that wanted it.
That said, it never really achieved widespread global appeal. Apart from SIA, operators included Virgin Australia, who used the seats on its Airbus A330s from 2012, but soon switched them out for a direct aisle access alternative only three years later.
Fiji Airways also uses the seats on its Airbus A330s, though its latest Airbus A350s have a new product.
Other former users include EVA Air:
And China Airlines:
What did it replace?
If we told you there was quite some some excitement at an angle-flat bed in Business Class on regional routes among SIA regulars when these seats were launched, you’d probably ask what exactly they were replacing!
It was the 11-year-old ‘Ultimo’ Business Class recliner seats by Italy’s Avio Interiors, pioneers of electrically-controlled Business Class seats in the late 1990s.
These were fitted in a 2-3-2 configuration on SIA’s Boeing 777-200s and 777-300s (the non-ER variants plying regional and medium-haul routes).
The seats were first fitted to the Boeing 747-400 in 1998 (not fun fact – the ill-fated 9V-SPK, which crashed at Taipei in October 2000, was the first aircraft to receive them).
Other developments in 1998 for SIA included finally became a fully non-smoking airline (flights to and from Japan were last to switch), introduction of e-ticketing for the first time (but only on KL flights), and the upgrade of selected KrisWorld systems to allow passengers to “fast-forward, rewind and pause video programmes as they please”.
In other words – a bygone era!
The 2009 RJ seat made its debut on SIA’s Airbus A330 aircraft in early 2009. The first of these was delivered factory-fresh from Airbus on 29th January that year.
These aircraft were only leased on five-year terms as a stop-gap due to production delays for SIA’s Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s, with the airline holding firm orders for 20 of each at the time.
The first passengers to sit in the new seats were on board SQ106 from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur at 8.35am on 16th February 2009, with the aircraft (9V-STA) operating twice daily on the KL route, in addition to a single daily Jakarta flight, for crew training purposes.
Official launch was on 30th March 2009, from Singapore to Brisbane, with the first few aircraft then rolled out on flights to Perth, Adelaide, Nagoya and Osaka.
Airbus A330-300 Seat Map
(retired Mar 2020)
The latest 2018 Regional Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration was neither available nor the customer expectation for short to medium-haul flights in the early 2010s.
The seat was later fitted to Boeing 777-300s (non-ERs), entering service on the first refitted aircraft on 22nd July 2009 from Singapore to Sydney.
Boeing 777-300 Seat Map
(retired Oct 2020)
These aircraft had by far the largest Regional Business Class cabin with 50 of the 2009 RJ seats fitted over nine rows.
The service was operated by the airline’s last active Boeing 777-300, 9V-SYJ, which went on to fly four cargo-only round-trip Bangkok flights before being retired from service a few days later, on 29th October 2020.
Finally the new seats made it on to the Boeing 777-200s (non-ERs), entering service on the first refitted aircraft on 23rd February 2010 from Singapore to Shanghai.
This was the only type in the fleet featuring the 2009 RJ seats across two separate cabin sections; a larger cabin between the first two main aircraft doors from rows 11 to 16 and a smaller two or three-row cabin behind the second door pair, rows 17 to 19.
Boeing 777-200 (SR Series) Seat Map
(retired Jan 2020)
While total capacity in this cabin on all 777-200s with these seats was the same, the refitted ‘SR series’ aircraft had a different toilet and galley layout to the ‘SQ series’ ones shown below, necessitating a three-row cabin behind second pair of doors to achieve the same seat count.
Boeing 777-200 (SQ Series) Seat Map
(retired Dec 2019)
Note how there was no Row 18 on the ‘SQ series’ Boeing 777-200s with these seats, to better manage customer expectations of which the bulkhead row and final row in each cabin would be, regardless of which series of 777-200 you were flying on.
We flew in the 2009 Regional Business Class many times over the years (probably too many times for our liking), including to and from Bali, Bangkok, Male and Hanoi, but luckily we always managed to avoid it on long overnight flights.
Here’s our review from a 2017 trip from Bangkok to Singapore.
Here are a few of the quirkier and perhaps less-known facts about this seat product.
A330 passengers were short-changed a ‘privacy wing’
Even regular SIA Business Class passengers may never have noticed, but the ‘privacy wing’ at head height was missing at the window side of the A/K seats on Airbus A330s due to the curvature of the wall, but did feature on the Boeing 777s!
SIA was the only airline to fit these seats on the Boeing 777
To our knowledge, no other airline apart from SIA chose the Weber 7811 Business Class seat for use on a Boeing 777.
That’s probably because the seat was optimised for the Airbus A330, in a 2-2-2 layout. Most airlines at the time were choosing a 2-3-2 layout in the wider Boeing 777 for their regional business cabins, but this seat design did not support that, leading them to choose alternative products.
However, Singapore Airlines opted for consistency in its Regional Business Class, and that meant fitting the seat in a 2-2-2 layout across the much larger Boeing 777 cabins.
The seats themselves were otherwise identical to the A330 (apart from the privacy wing mentioned above), but the aisles were a full 30cm wider on the Boeing 777s, which also benefitted from those enormous overhead lockers compared to the A330.
Boeing 777s also had a better passenger-to-toilet ratio of between 12.5:1 and 12.7:1 in this cabin, versus 15:1 on the Airbus A330, and had around 2 inches of extra seat pitch (legroom) than the A330, making it easier to climb over a sleeping neighbour if you had a window seat.
All factors considered, that meant if you had to take the 2009 Regional Business Class anyway, the Boeing 777-200s and -300s were the aircraft to do it on!
In the end, some sold it as Premium Economy!
The 2009 RJ seat made headlines Singapore Airlines probably wished it hadn’t back in October 2018.
In a sign of how passenger expectations for premium cabin products had shifted over the last decade, Air Canada revealed it was taking a quartet of second hand Singapore Airlines A330s in mid-2019, but wasn’t willing to sell the installed 2009 RJ seats as Business Class on transatlantic routes.
Until its new flat-bed 1-2-1 product was later installed on the same planes, the seats were sold as Premium Economy.
The seat lives on
If you’re going to miss the 2009 Regional Business Class seat, it does live on with some operators. Charter airline Hi Fly Malta has four ex-SIA A330-300s in its fleet with 30 of these Business Class seats still installed.
These aircraft are now operated on charters and operating leases to other airlines, with the following registrations:
- 9H-HFC (ex 9V-STU)
- 9H-HFD (ex 9V-STZ)
- 9H-HFE (ex 9V-SSB)
- 9H-TAJ (ex 9V-STY)
One of these aircraft has been flying on behalf of PIA in recent weeks, back and forth between Europe and Islamabad.
Most other airlines who picked up A330s with the ex-SIA seats have now refitted them.
China Airlines does still use the Weber 7811 seat on some of its Airbus A330-300 aircraft, leaving it and Fiji Airways the only other two we still know of in service.
The 2009 Regional Business Class seat won’t go down in history as an incredible trendsetter for Singapore Airlines, nor will it be missed by the vast majority of passengers, though in its time and place it was well received.
Over a decade ago, when the seat was first rolled out, lie-flat (i.e. angled) beds set the bar for Regional Business Class, and generated great excitement among regulars keen to see the back of the airline’s 2-3-2 ‘Ultimo’ seats (eventually phased out in March 2018).
At one point a third of Singapore Airlines aircraft in service had these seats fitted, so almost all regular SIA Business Class passengers have sat in them at some stage over the years.
These seats were sociable for a couple on a shorter daytime flight and had good storage options, but almost everything else about them was a drawback against current expectations, in our opinion.
What are your memories of the 2009 Regional Business Class seats, and what else do you know about them that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below.
(Cover Photo: Luke Lai)