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AIRPORT DESIGN Last modified on October 1, 2015

In the hot seat

Zoeftig’s CEO, Paul Williams, tells Airport World about some of the latest developments in airport seating.

Can we start with a controversial one, why does there never appear to be enough seating in airports?

If we go back 15-20 years, a lot of airport terminal designers were guilty of just packing in as many seats as possible, usually in rows with little thought to the actually design or the needs of the customer. Since then, there has been a definite move to the minimal, but with designs that incorporate a different type and mix of seating. 

Designers have acknowledged that, firstly there isn’t just one type of passenger, and secondly, that a balance needs to be struck to find the right amount of seating to suit the volume of passengers.

On the whole, airports are looking to make themselves much more inviting by creating more of a lounge type experience, and are doing that with better seating solutions, a better choice of colours and a more reasoned layout. Granted, in some instances the right balance isn’t met, so seating can be too sparse, but where new terminals are concerned (certainly those we design) the arrangement of seats has more thought involved and it’s now more likely that the seats provided will better suit the needs of the traveller than before. 

 

What’s hot and what’s not in terms of the current trends driving the design of airport seating?

In--seat power, both mains and USB is the clear trend shaping terminal design. The American market has been the early adopter of this technology, but we’re seeing demand becoming more widespread worldwide in order to meet the growing expectation from passengers for convenient device charging. 

Nearly all of our major product enquiries across the globe include the provision of power (between 50-100% power to seat ratio). 

A major bugbear for frequent fliers today is the lack of free facilities, which allow commuters to work on the move, so this shift towards an intelligent in-seat power solution is a key factor in the design process and one that we have been innovators in, with some of our clients even opting for a complete overhaul of terminal seating to include power; which goes to show just how important it is.

Also, the mixing of lifestyle type products (softer furnishings, for instance) with a combination of different seating arrangements such as curved rows, business clusters, etc to create a less sterile-feeling environment, is another notable trend.

 

What next for IT innovation and airport seating either in terms of the seats themselves or the actual design process? 

Where IT is concerned, the focus/innovation is again on in-seat power. The unprecedented growth in use of personal electronics – smartphones, tablets and kindle-type devices – has meant that this type of central power hub for use by multiple customers is fast become a less practical solution, with passengers increasingly demanding a more personal solution and one that means they aren’t compelled to ‘wait their turn’. 

The requirement for power to be installed in beam seating at airports has grown year-on-year for the past five years. We originally launched the first integrated product for our Zenky range for a project at San Jose International Airport where the sockets were built into the armrests.

There are many problems with integrating technology into a product that is designed to last at least 20 years; namely the fact that the technology and the power required for charging changes on a quarterly basis. Whilst this does not present a problem when charging from the mains supply, it is a very different proposition with USB, as our mobile devices, be it tablets or smartphones, are extremely demanding, requiring ever increasing voltage and amps. 

Another major problem the market has faced is that most electrical sockets are designed to last between 5,000-15,000 inserts and 1,500 inserts for USB. In an airport environment where footfall is high, these numbers can be surpassed in a matter of months. In response to these issues, Zoeftig have developed a new power model, Boost, that’s adaptable for all international socket types and USB power outlets. 

Airports must also ensure that any electrical units that they purchase are fully upgradable to receive the latest USB sockets that are set to come to market in the next year or so and ensure that voltage and ampage is capable of charging the latest products, otherwise they may find that they receive more complaints than compliments.

 

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Why is airport seating still primarily linear in design when surely different configurations might be more effective in certain environments?

Today, there is much more attention on the size, diversity, comfort, style and arrangement of seating, and this means that linear seating is no longer the first choice. It’s now about fitting the right type of seat for the environment. 

We make seats in a variety of configurations, including linear, arc (curved), solo cluster and duo cluster and well as in a range of finishes, such as Z-Form PU, fully upholstered PVC, E-Leather and laminated show-wood. 

The demand for different configurations and finishes is proof that linear is now no longer the dominant force in seating design. Linear still has its place, but today’s design is much more about what seats work in which part of the airport and about future proofing seating. 

Five key points shape all installation choices today: price, safety, integration, aesthetics and future proofing. Many of the latest airports in the USA have placed future-proofing as high up on the agenda, in some instances making the bold move to rip out existing seats and install new, solely with the aim to give passengers the comfort and convenience of seated power. 

Moving forward, the focus on integration looks set to the lead the market and will likely shape the future of seating design, but supplying power safely, neatly and directly to seats within airports still has many challenges, which is why a partnership approach with seating manufacturers is so central to delivering successful results. 

 

Is being seen to be ‘green’ still a top priority?

Actually being green is very important, rather than just being seen to be. As a business, one of our key ambitions is continual improvement. In terms of our environmental performance, this means careful design, consideration and appropriate use of raw materials, production processes and packaging solutions. 

Product longevity has always been important to Zoeftig and we also consider the environmental impact of a product at every stage of its development. As a business, we aim to deliver innovative products that combine exceptional quality, visual simplicity and reconfigurability, which naturally means reducing product and component complexity. As part of our product and packaging development process, we design out or limit the use of unnecessary and excess materials, and also design with disassembly in mind. For example, our latest flagship seating product has virtually halved shipping space requirements due to the clever way it is designed and packed.

 

If not commercially sensitive, can you tell us more about your biggest airport contract of 2015 to date – i.e. what airport, how many seats and the particular requirements of the job?

Dubai International Airport’s Concourse 4/D has been a major project for us and is another important step into the Middle  Eastern market.

The demand for greater airline capacity in the territory is considerable and Dubai’s new Concourse 4/D will open to the travellers in the second half of 2015, complementing the existing three Concourses – A, B and C. 

We were chosen to supply 7,000 seats for all concourse areas, with our Zenky Plus solution – a new premium product in the Zenky range – upholstered in a mix of blue, red, black and grey leathers in both standard and recliner versions with footrests. We also advised on the layout and beam configurations to enhance the flow, improve the traveller experience and to strike the balance between achieving maximum capacity whilst retaining a feeling of space and comfort. 

Luxury was very much the focus here. In most circumstances, where leather is the preferred fabric, we will recommend a robust and hardwearing e-leather, which is a great balance between quality and convenience. For Dubai, though, the drivers behind the design were very different and as such they wanted only the best, natural materials, so we chose a natural, soft hide leather complete with a stitched ribbed upholstery detail. This has been one of our most luxurious installations. 

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