IndiGo’s RECARO move – beyond the press release

Yesterday, IndiGo and RECARO announced that the carrier will be the first in the Indian subcontinent to launch the RECARO BL3710 seats. Starting January next year, 75 aircraft of the A320neo family will be fitted with these seats. I was surprised that the press release specifically wanted to mention the Indian sub-continent because not many airlines are expanding in this part of the world. With its size and scale, IndiGo should make news if it’s first in Asia, not in the Indian subcontinent any more. The airline has more aircraft in its fleet than the entire AirAsia Group!

While the press reported this news widely, there was little beyond the press release information and thus it was time to dig in and write. With lack of information online, it became more of a memory test to write about the existing seats before comparison. But let us look at the new ones first. 

The RECARO BL3710 is a seat created for short and medium haul routes and comes with a tablet PC holder. The seat also has options of having a high literature pocket and innovative headrest. But a look at the renders released by RECARO shows that IndiGo has not opted for any of these but opted for continuation of existing services on offer, but at lesser weight.

This is the third set of seats for IndiGo since inception, when it started with the Weber 5600 series and moved to Dragonfly in 2014. Interestingly Weber was acquired by Zodiac Seats U.S. LLC, which was a subsidiary of Zodiac Aerospace of France. Zodiac Aerospace was acquired by Safran. The Dragonfly seat which the airline selected in 2017 is now rebranded as Safran Z85. 

Learned friends in the industry inform that Weber seats were around 14kgs per seat, which makes it 84 kgs per row. The airline saw a drop of over 700kgs when it opted for Dragonfly, which weighed 60kg per row. The RECARO BL3710 seat is lower than 10kg per person, which translates to less than 60kgs per row and less than 1860 kgs of weight for the A320neo. 

Safran continues to sell the Z85, of which over 170,000 seats are in operation worldwide across more than 50 airlines. The reason for shift towards RECARO could be for more reasons than one, especially since the weight difference isn’t much as was the case during the shift from Weber to Dragonfly. One of the reasons could be cheaper availability. RECARO, like many other aerospace companies, has exposure to Russia. The company has a deal in place with Aeroflot for seats to be delivered up to 2028. This is for the BL3710 seat and while IndiGo’s seats won’t have as much padding as that of Aeroflot, the manufacturing capacity being freed up would have led to IndiGo being offered a better deal. Any reduction in weight helps in two ways. First it reduces the aircraft Operating Empty Weight (OEW). Secondly, it gives an option to uplift higher cargo. In future, if the airline decides to equip these 75 aircraft with ovens, which it has so far kept out. Some of the weight could be offset with this decision. Lastly, one of the factors to consider is ease of maintenance. The tray table is remarkably different. If you want to see the current tray table and haven’t traveled for a while, scroll to 15:06 in this episode of Cockpit Casual where former VT-IDZ of IndiGo is ferried from Alice Springs in Australia to Francazal in France.
To know more about the shift from Weber to Dragonfly, read this very informative article from TheFlyingEngineer: IndiGo – Thins seats, widens savings

The airline has been silent on what is the impact on seat pitch. Seat pitch is the measurement between one seatback and the same spot on the next seatback. A slimline seat gives you better legroom so to say as compared to a seat with padding. Yet it could be more comfortable to be seated on a seat with padding as compared to slimline seats, especially when it comes to longer flights. When the seat pitch is 29 inches, anywhere between 3 to 5 inches should be subtracted due to thickness of the seat, leaving an effective 24 to 26 inches for a person to be seated. The position of the seat pocket along with not opting for a magazine holder reduces this further.

The seats also do not seem to accommodate USB charging or plan for inflight streaming. All eyes thus shift to the airline announcing its product for the A321XLRs. It is widely expected that the airline will have dual class on those aircraft but one needs to see if those would be a mix of premium economy and economy or would it be Business and Economy. Without ovens and streaming, a flight over seven hours doesn’t seem to be exciting for any passenger in current times!

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