Cathay Pacific

HK group buckles down to airline-seat venture

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2011, 12:00am

Hong Kong is set to become one of the few Asian countries capable of producing aircraft cabin seats that meet international aviation safety standards, thanks to a local consortium that claims to have developed a lighter, cheaper model.

The Hong Kong Productivity Council and its partner, Universal Aviation Industrial, hope to produce their seats commercially by mid-2013, once an assembly line is set up and the product has been certified under strict Civil Aviation Department guidelines.

The partnership is eyeing the Asian market and predicted their mainland-made, carbon-composite model will be about 30 per cent cheaper and 10 per cent lighter than current cabin seats made of the more traditional aluminium. In time, they hope to compete with established manufacturers such as B/E Aerospace, which fits out much of Cathay Pacific's fleet.

'The business potential for non-critical aviation products is remarkable, especially in the fast-growing mainland aviation market,' said Henry Chan Hon-hung, from Universal Aviation Industrial, a consortium of six Hong Kong businesses who are mostly involved in the car parts industry.

While some Hong Kong companies carry out airline seat repairs, none has broken into the production market. Stringent safety standards and high initial costs are the main entry barriers to a highly competitive industry that is now proving tough even for established producers.

Last year, Koito Industries, a leading Japanese supplier, falsified data on safety tests, affecting more than 150,000 seats installed on major airlines including Air Canada, KLM and Singapore Airlines. Airbus banned all Koito seats from their aircraft for about two years.

'Fortunately, Hong Kong has a major airline [Cathy Pacific],' said Clement Chan Cheng-jen, the productivity council chairman. 'If they buy our seats, it will be a great promotion for us and other companies in China and the rest of Asia.' Airlines replace seats every five to seven years, or about three times during the lifetime of a typical passenger aircraft. Premium economy class seats cost between US$8,000 and US$10,000.

Most parts would be sourced in the Pearl River Delta, lowering production costs, the consortium said. But two key components that account for a third of the manufacturing costs are not produced locally and may affect the product's price.

Carolyn Leung, a Cathay Pacific spokeswoman, said it was too early for the airline to make a commitment to the new seats. However, the company supported the work of the productivity council and would follow the venture's progress.