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Composites are rapidly replacing the aluminium traditionally used for airplaneseating. Many aircraft seat manufacturers have begun producing composite-basedseats because they are lighter, cheaper and safer. In a market where airlinesare desperately trying to lower fuel costs, these seats are proving highly viable.
(Published on March 2006 – JEC Magazine #23)
With the price of jet fuel plunging numerous airlines into bankruptcy, many are looking into ways to save fuel and cut costs. During takeoff, when an airplane uses the majority of its petrol, a lighter jet requires less fuel and has an easier time getting off the ground. As a result, some airlines have gone as far as removing pillows on shortdistance flights and using less paint on the jet’s exterior.
Making airlines more cost-effective
Composites are playing an important role in the aviation industry’s attempt to cut costs. They are quickly becoming the standard material used for aircraft seats, as they are significantly lighter and frequently cheaper than aluminium. In addition, some are safer because of their flame-retardant qualities.
Composites are capable of reducing the weight of a seat by as much as 47%. For example, the lumbar support at the base of the seat typically weighs about 280g when made in aluminium, and 150g when made out of the PPS composite. Spread that over the hundreds of seats in an aircraft, particularly the 555-seat Airbus A380, and the savings are evident.
The types of composites that have been used for aircraft seats are usually made from carbon fibre and polyphenylene sulphide (PPS). Thickness is typically about 0.2 to 5mm.
Spreading throughout the aircraft
Managing director of the Germany-based Bond Laminates, Joost van Lindert, believes that composites such as Tepex PPS will become the norm for airplane seating and spread to other applications in airplanes.
“Composites are becoming more and more standard in airplane seating. Compared to the traditional aluminium seating, composites are lighter and more cost effective,” said Mr. Van Lindert, adding that the new Airbus 380 and Boeing 787 are almost 50% composite, with applications not only in their seats, but also in their fuselage and main structure.
The potential for composites in this multimillion dollar industry is enormous. In the United States alone, over 2.3 million aircraft seats are available for travel every day. The price of a seat varies greatly from class to class, but can go as high as $2,000 each. And Boeing sells over 800 commercial jets each year.