We continue our ‘farewell’ series of four Singapore Airlines Business Class and First Class seats with one that will likely rank among our readers as a revolutionary product, if not now then certainly when it was launched, the 2006 long-haul Business Class model.
As its name suggests, the product entered service in 2006, but only just! The inaugural flight with the new seats, SQ334 from Singapore to Paris, departed Changi on 5th December 2006. It was operated by the airline’s first Boeing 777-300ER (9V-SWA), which came delivered fresh from the factory with new cabin products in all three cabins.
Over 13 years later, the era of the 2006 Business Class seat in SIA came to an (unintentionally premature) close, when the final passenger flight with this cabin, flown by Airbus A380 9V-SKL as SQ321 from London Heathrow to Singapore, touched down into Changi on 28th March 2020 at 6.54pm.
While the seats remain installed on three of the carrier’s Airbus A380s due to return to service after COVID-19, these will all be refitted with the latest cabin products before rejoining the operating fleet.
It was launched on the “wrong” aircraft
Singapore Airlines designed the new 2006 Business Class seat (and its counterpart Suites product) to be launched on the Airbus A380, which was set to be introduced into service in April 2006. This was a significant milestone for the airline, since it was the launch customer for the aircraft type.
Production delays pushed the first delivery to October and then December 2006.
In the end, another 10-month holdup resulted in SIA taking its first superjumbo in October 2007, 18 months later than planned.
That meant the new seats had to be introduced on the Boeing 777-300ER instead, between Singapore and Paris in December 2006. The 2006 Business Class product was first revealed to the media at an event on 17th October 2006, alongside the 2006 First Class seat.
By March 2007 the seat had been rolled out to several routes, as additional Boeing 777-300ER deliveries took place:
- San Francisco via Seoul
- Hong Kong
It was certainly all about width in Business Class, with these huge seats offering over 25% more lateral space than those being replaced, but before we study the seat in detail let’s take a look at who made it (“by hook or by crook”, as it turned out!).
The seat design
This seat was manufactured by Koito Industries of Japan, as an exclusive design for Singapore Airlines.
The disgraced company no longer manufactures aircraft seats, since admitting to falsifying safety test results in 2010, a scandal that delayed new deliveries and retrofit work on many Singapore Airlines aircraft, including Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s.
Koito now specialises in safety lighting systems for the automotive, aviation and maritime industries.
More on the seat scandal later in the article!
The Singapore Airlines 2006 seat
This revolutionary product was sometimes referred to as the Koito ‘Diamond’ seat (while the 2006 First Class was the ‘Diamond Plus’ seat), though Singapore Airlines never specifically named either one.
At the time, this was both the largest seat and the largest bed offered worldwide in Business Class.
Direct aisle access and seat width were both significant selling points, but SIA also lauded the seat’s power supply and IFE system in its marketing.
Here’s SIA’s promotional video for the 2006 J seat.
Our new Business Class seat, the widest in its class, invites you to be re-acquainted with the joys of relaxing on your favourite sofa. The premium seat unfolds to reveal the largest ever full-flat bed; offering you all the room you need.Singapore Airlines
In June 2013 over 2,750 of these seats were installed on Singapore Airlines aircraft, close to 60% of the 4,600 Business Class seats fitted fleet-wide at that time.
For some, it was too wide
The enormous width of the seat was such that it could actually be uncomfortable to relax in for some passengers, as it was almost impossible to have two easily reachable armrests.
Singapore Airlines started providing bolster cushions at each seat to assist with this, though the practice eventually ceased.
The seat had a great little shelf for your welcome drink, though we noticed in recent years the crew stopped using it, perhaps because too many were getting spilled as passengers got in and out of their seats or stowed their hand luggage in the overhead locker during boarding.
On the Boeing 777, each seat also had a useful storage shelf at the window side (or between the middle seat pairs), ideal for portable devices like laptops and tablets that you needed to keep within reach during the flight.
For those sitting next to a stranger in the middle seats, there was an extendable privacy divider installed.
While these are no match for the much larger dividers fitted in Business Class on more recent SIA aircraft, they still improved privacy to a good degree.
Bulkhead rows had a lot more space
Bulkhead seats were always ones to go for if you wanted to avoid the small cubby hole for your feet while sleeping once the 2006 J seat was in bed mode.
The lack of a seat in front meant a full-width bench replaced the small space, providing a much more generous sleeping surface.
On most aircraft with the 2006 J seats installed this meant picking any seat in row 11, though there were additional options especially on the Airbus A380.
The bed ‘flipped over’
One potential downside of the 2006 Business Class seat was that the mattress was on the reverse of the seat itself, requiring you to flip the seat back over to convert it to bed mode.
Of course you could always ask the cabin crew to do this for you and they would happily oblige, however it meant you couldn’t easily switch between seat mode and bed mode like you can on the newer 2017 Business Class seats.
That said, the 2013 Business Class still requires you to flip the seat over when turning it into a bed.
The A380 seats were bigger
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was only one version of the 2006 Business Class seat fitted on specific aircraft in the Singapore Airlines fleet.
In fact not all Singapore Airlines 2006 Business Class seats were created equal.
The ones on the Airbus A380 were some four inches wider than those on the Boeing 777s (34″ vs 30″), taking advantage of extra space by removing the storage shelves alongside the IFE screen on the inside sections of each seat.
The triangular fixed side at the window side (or between the seats in the middle pairs) along the seat pan was also removed on the A380, ‘squaring up’ the section.
The Airbus A340-500s had similar seats to the A380s in design, but were also scaled back to 30 inches of width in order to fit in the 52-cm narrower cabin, compared to the A380 upper deck.
In effect, there were actually three versions of the 2006 Business Class seat in service at one point.
One of the major benefits on the Airbus 380 was the inclusion of the large additional side storage compartments at the window seats
These were very useful for storing your own shoes or toiletries, etc. and keeping them in easy reach throughout the flight even when the seat was in bed mode.
It more than made up for the missing storage shelf found on the Boeing 777s.
Here are the key stats for the 2006 Business Class seat, shown alongside its primary replacement – the 2013 Business Class manufactured by Japan’s JAMCO, which was first introduced on 9th July 2013.
|2006 J||2013 J|
|Screen Size||15.4″ SD||18″ HD|
|Power Sockets||1 UNI / US + 2 USB (B77W/A380)
1 UNI + 2 USB (A340)
1 UNI (B772)
|1 UNI + 2 USB|
The seat was replaced on the Airbus A380s, however, by the newer 2017 Business Class model, which first launched on 18th December 2017 and is also manufactured by JAMCO. Its vital stats are shown alongside the 2006 seat below.
|2006 J||2017 J|
|Screen Size||15.4″ SD||18″ HD|
|Power Sockets||1 UNI / US + 2 USB (B77W/A380)
1 UNI + 2 USB (A340)
1 UNI (B772)
|1 UNI + 2 USB|
What did it replace?
This seat was newly fitted on Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A380s, however it replaced the old SpaceBed Raffles Class seats in 2-2-2 configuration on the Airbus A340-500 and Boeing 777-200ER.
If that sounds archaic for Business Class, a 2-3-2 layout was even used on the main deck of the Boeing 747s!
With a 10.4-inch IFE screen (today’s Business Class seats have 18-inch HD versions), lack of direct aisle access and angled beds in sleeping mode, the new seats represented a major advance.
Notice how Singapore Airlines didn’t name its seat products after the SpaceBed, which finally left service in December 2017, as the airline moved into CEO Chew Choon Seng’s era.
He was said not to favour the policy and also oversaw the rebranding of Raffles Class into the more internationally-recognised Business Class, plus the abolition of aircraft type names like MEGATOP, Jubilee and LeaderShip.
Here is a list of the four aircraft types in the Singapore Airlines fleet that had the 2006 Business Class seats installed over the years, with the very first inaugural and final services highlighted.
2006 Business Class Seat Deployment
|Airbus A340-500||18 May 2008
|23 Nov 2013
|Airbus A380-800||25 Oct 2007
|27 Mar 2020
|Boeing 777-200ER||13 Jan 2013
|21 Mar 2020
|Boeing 777-300ER||5 Dec 2006
|23 Dec 2018
The first aircraft type in the fleet to get the new 2006 J seats was the Boeing 777-300ERs, brand new at the time, which featured 42 seats across a small two-row cabin just behind First Class, plus a larger nine-row section.
Boeing 777-300ER Seat Map
(all refitted by Dec 2018)
The two-row ‘mini-cabin’ was popular with frequent flyers for its quieter and more intimate atmosphere, leading people to favour it even in Row 12, which was missing a window.
The seats then made their way onto another brand new type – the airline’s Airbus A380, which was also the first in the world when it entered service between Singapore and Sydney in October 2007.
Airbus A380 Version 1 Seat Map
(retired Mar 2020)
A380 flights from Singapore to London were added on 18th March 2008, allowing customers to fly the popular ‘kangaroo route’ through Singapore in the world’s widest Business Class seat.
Later versions of the superjumbos had an all-Business Class upper deck with 86 seats in total, including a peculiar single row behind the rear door pair.
Airbus A380 Version 2 Seat Map
(retired Mar 2020)
Bassinet positions were also moved out of the forward mini-cabin, which also had a couple more seats installed due to a toilet and galley reconfiguration.
By 2008 it was time to refit the five Airbus A340-500s operating non-stop flights between Singapore and both Newark and Los Angeles with the new seats, replacing the SpaceBeds on SIA’s longest non-stop flights.
The airline also took the opportunity to reconfigure these aircraft at the same time, into an all Business Class arrangement with 100 seats.
Airbus A340-500 Seat Map
(retired Nov 2013)
Finally in 2013, once the Koito seat saga had been ‘resolved’ to a certain extent, SIA began fitting the 2006 J seats to its Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, again replacing the SpaceBeds.
Boeing 777-200ER Seat Map
(retired Mar 2020)
Eventually nine remaining Boeing 777-200ERs from December 2017 all had the new 2006 J Business Class fitted, though the fleet then wound down making what was probably only a slightly premature exit in March 2020 due to COVID-19.Fun fact: 9V-SVE was the longest-serving Boeing 777-200ER with the 2006 Business Class seats, as the first aircraft to receive them in January 2013 and the last of the type to be retired in June 2020.
We flew in the 2006 J seat many times over the years, but luckily we finally took the opportunity to comprehensively review it in 2019 on a return trip to Hong Kong, when one of the daily flights was being operated by the Boeing 777-200ER.
As it happens our return flight was on 9V-SVE, the last 777-200ER aircraft that flew with this seat.
The Koito seat scandal
As we mentioned earlier in the article, the Singapore Airlines 2006 Business Class seat was manufactured by Japanese company Koito Industries.
In 2009, Japan’s civil aviation regulator JCAB noticed that Koito had delivered aircraft seats to JAL covered with a material not certified for use on aircraft. While that doesn’t sound too serious, use of only approved fabrics in cabin furnishings is vital for slowing the spread of fires.
The authority issued Koito with a warning, but what seemed like a simple lapse was only the beginning. A house of cards was about to fall, and Singapore Airlines was set to get caught up in the ensuing mess.
Over in Toulouse, France, in late 2009, SIA’s 11th Airbus A380 (9V-SKK) was being readied for delivery. Rather than being flown to Changi in January 2010 as scheduled, however, the aircraft was sealed up and parked on the ramp.
The delay came about not from Airbus, but from the European safety regulator EASA, who had withdrawn its ‘Production Authorisation Approval’ (POA) from Koito, meaning it was unable to produce seat or seat parts for airborne use. EASA no longer considered Koito a trustworthy manufacturer, claiming it wasn’t sharing enough information with European clients.
“Our withdrawal of the POA is what I would describe as an emergency measure.
“EASA’s directive applies to all Airbus planes, even if they are flown outside Europe.”Dr. Daniel Höltgen, EASA spokesman, September 2009
By February 2010, with 9V-SKK still parked up in Toulouse, EASA released a public statement of concern saying it was “evaluating evidence… regarding irregularities in the design and production of Koito seats manufactured in Japan”.
This was no longer just about fitting new seats to aircraft, it was also about those already installed, including over 600 of SIA’s pioneering 2006 Business Class flat beds.
The European regulator had called Koito’s bluff.
The following day the Japanese firm’s CEO publicly admitted that it had deliberately faked test results on its seats, relating to crash survivability and flammability.
“Fraudulent acts were conducted across the organization.
“Our wrongful acts concerning seats for aircraft severely impair our credibility as an enterprise that engages in aviation-related business, and we feel remrose for, and sincerely apologize for, having caused considerable inconvenience and concern to customers and other parties.”Takashi Kakegawa, Koito CEO, 8th February 2010
Koito had used results from previous tests on different seats to fast-track approvals, and fabricated other test data, because the company “feared it might otherwise fail to keep to its delivery schedules”.
Not only had Koito used test data from previous seats and falsified other results (as if that wasn’t bad enough), it also manipulated computers to produce ‘favourable’ test readings when inspectors were present.
In other words – a deliberate deception.
Did it matter?
Yes it did, as it turns out. Proper tests overseen by regulators subsequently conducted on actual seats Koito had supplied to airlines began to reveal something alarming.
“Results from tests performed by Koito with the supervision of (the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau) confirmed a high proportion of seat models failed the requirements for structural, flammability and occupant injury criteria.”EASA
In December 2010, JCAB said Koito’s test results may have been falsified over a 15-year period, and as many as 150,000 seats used by 30 airlines worldwide could be affected.
“The scope and the extent of these activities are not like anything we have observed before.”Les Dorr, Jr., FAA Spokesman
JCAB and EASA have concluded that all data (both design and manufacturing) generated by Koito must be treated as suspect.
The level of falsification and the length of time over which the falsification occurred, in combination with the lack of retained records, prompted EASA to deem that all Koito Seats exhibit unsafe conditions of varying degrees.EASA
How was SIA affected?
SIA’s 11th A380 was granted an exemption and eventually delivered in July 2010, six months after it was first due to join the fleet.
In the end three more of SIA’s A380s were delayed (9V-SKL, -SKM and -SKN), while the regulators and manufacturers wrangled over what to do.
SIA was forced to retain Boeing 747-400 operation on its Singapore – Tokyo – Los Angeles flights for an additional six months, a route due to switch to the A380 with the 12th aircraft delivery (9V-SKL).
The cabin refit programme on Boeing 777-300s (non-ERs) also ground to a halt for some time due to the issue. Only one aircraft had the refit from July 2009 to April 2011 due to the seat certification debacle, with SIA having to roll back on a promise that the products would feature on five routes by late 2009. Koito made the 2006 First Class seats being fitted to those aircraft.
What eventually happened?
Ultimately EASA (and the FAA in the US) issued an Airworthiness Directive in June 2011, permitting Koito seats to remain installed for two years. If the seats passed specific tests, this could be extended to six years, with further tests permitting an even longer service life.
However, EASA was “unable to find a way to accept that seats which do not comply with significant parts of the applicable requirements remain in service indefinitely”, noting they had completed “only an abbreviated test programme”. The European regulator ordered that the seats must be completely removed after 10 years.
In early 2013, Singapore Airlines received approximately S$79 million in compensation, combined between Boeing and Koito, so at least some of that related to the seat saga.
These seats were auctioned from $38 on the inaugural A380 flight
If you wanted to be a part of aviation history and fly on the inaugural Airbus A380 passenger flight from Singapore to Sydney in October 2017, or on the return service the following day, you could do so by bidding as little as US$38 as part of a charity auction held on eBay.
Bids started at:
- US$3.80 for Economy Class
- US$38.00 for Business Class
- US$380 for Suites Class
You wouldn’t actually get a seat with bids like those of course!
In total the auction raised US$1.9 million, an average of over US$2,000 per seat across the two flights, with proceeds donated to The Community Chest of Singapore, Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and Médecins Sans Frontierès.
ExxonMobil paid for the fuel and Singapore Airlines covered the airport taxes and fees on all tickets, ensuring the money raised all went directly to the charities involved.
Charging was conflicting
Because the 2006 Business Class seats were installed on different generations of aircraft, the electrical power supply wasn’t always the same.
On Boeing 777-200ERs, for example, a single UNI socket was provided, but there were no USB charging ports for some reason.
Airbus A340s and newer Airbus A380s and Boeing 777-300ERs had two USB ports and a UNI socket, probably the best combination you could get for device charging and the same setup provided in the airline’s latest Business Class seats.
If you were flying in this seat on an older A380 or older Boeing 777-300ER you’d find a US-style plug socket.
The A340 had ‘solo’ middle seats at the back
Space constraints at the back of the Airbus A340-500 cabin, which was used on Ultra Long Haul flights fitted with 100 of the 2006 J seats, meant the usual 1-2-1 arrangement became a 1-1-1 layout at the last two rows.
The forward of the two seats (37F) was the one to go for here, with a full-width bench for your legs expanding both available space and the bed area.
Leather upholstery colours weren’t random
Many people thought it was just pot luck whether you would get a light brown or dark brown seat colour, simply finding out when you stepped on board, but this is Singapore Airlines! There is a fixed pattern and the airline sticks firmly to it.
When seat covers or furnishings need to be replaced, the correct colour for that specific seat is used.
Here’s how the alternating seat colours look on the Boeing 777-200ER (we’ve coloured the normal seat map to illustrate the pattern).
The seat side panel trim colour between the seat pan and the aisle alternated in the same way, opposite to the leather tone used.
SIA continues to alternate it’s seat colours in Business Class on aircraft with the 2013 J seats, however since the introduction of the latest 2017 J and 2018 RJ products the airline has stuck with a single colour scheme for all seats.
What it meant when flying the 2006 J seat however is that you could know which seat to choose based on your colour preference if you wished, by searching cabin photos online!
The seat lived on, briefly
The first five SIA Airbus A380s on operating leases were withdrawn from service and returned to their lessors in 2017 and 2018, replaced by five brand new models from Airbus arriving around the same period, with brand new cabin products installed.
The five older aircraft retained their original cabin products and one (former 9V-SKC) was picked up by charter operator Hi Fly.
Over the years the aircraft has operated for low-cost carrier Norwegian Air, while its Boeing 787s were grounded due to Rolls-Royce engine issues, and flown some other charter services, but for the most part it was sitting idle.
Unfortunately Hi Fly has confirmed that it will not be extending its own three-year lease on the aircraft, which is now in storage, so the 2006 Business Class seats look almost certain to now be a thing of the past.
In any event, Hi Fly would have been forced to remove all 60 of the aircraft’s Koito Business Class seats by 31st July 2021 and replace them with a different product, since they can no longer be used by any European operator after EASA’s 10-year exemption expires.
Quite unknowingly, Singapore Airlines selected and partnered with a fraudulent company when it chose its pioneering 2006 Business Class (and 2006 First Class) seats.
As if the lengthy delay to the A380’s introduction – a type the seat was originally supposed to launch on – wasn’t enough, the debacle over certification that came about after Koito admitted its fraudulent activities delayed new aircraft deliveries and retrofit work for many months, through no fault of SIA’s.
Scandals aside though, most of our readers will look back on the 2006 Business Class seats with affection. They were pioneering in the mid-2000s, and while they didn’t age too gracefully, their space rivalled many First Class seats still in service today.
While the latest long-haul Business Class seats have sacrificed some of the incredible width offered by the 2006 J seat, this has been put to good use with improved storage, charging socket locations and a more modern finish.
Will you miss the 2006 Business Class seat? Let us know in the comments section below.
(Cover Photo: Sorbis / Shutterstock)