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This is what it looks like when Formula 1 inspires airplane seats


Hearts were racing at the Aircraft Interiors Expo last week when AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandez signed a huge order for a new Formula 1-design aircraft seat for his 304 of the airline’s Airbus A320neo planes on order and 8 plane retrofits for good luck.

“Today is the culmination of something positive that came out of Formula 1 — which generallywasn’t very positive for me,” Fernandes said. “We’ve always had a vision at AirAsia on seats. We have had lots of issues with seats over the past 15 years, as we’ve gone from two planes to 200 aircraft,” and growing with an order of 300 Airbus A320neos.

It was a shocker to hear such a large order announced for a supplier which just appeared at the show this year, but while Fernandes admitted it was a bold move, he described it to us as a carefully calculated risk.


“Yes, it’s a risk, but everything we’ve done in our life is a risk — even when we started with two planes,” Fernandes said. “Generally, we’ve mitigated the risk by knowing the team and the product. We love the people and we love the product. From my PA down to the crew everybody’s got rave reviews of it. And they [the crew] are the ones that count, to be honest, because they’re the ones that have to deal with unhappy passengers, if it’s not good. The whole company has been involved in this process and we’re thrilled and we look forward to installing them.”

Of course, Mirus aircraft seating isn’t a complete shot in the dark either. Fernandes said the AirAsia technical team collaborated with the Mirus team to get through the aviation-specific design requirements.

And, while company is new to aviation, the players are experienced in the automotive sector — beyond Formula 1 racing.

Mirus’ designers, engineers, technicians and bosses all have motor oil in the veins, working on projects for Saab, Tesla, Toyota and others.

The aptly named “Hawk” seat AirAsia bought is a sharp, well-designed, bird swooping down on an industry that’s past ready for a big shakeup, after decades of compounded consolidation.

This AirAsia order will make all the difference, and no doubt Tony Fernandes got a good deal out of it.


But basically, Fernandes, said, he just liked the Mirus team better.

“It’s down to people,” he said. “When you try to work with an established seat company and you try to put in what you want, it’s hard. We worked incredibly hard with Airbus, even though we bought 500 A320s to have them put in everything that we wanted..[with Mirus] we’re able to get what we wanted. Obviously, with a new a new company we’ll have a little bit more power to ask for what we want.”

But will it be what AirAsia passengers want?

“I think the main thing is that it’s fairly thin but it’s comfortable. There’s more space,” Fernandes said.

Before anyone beat him to it, Fernandes acknowledged that AirAsia will have 186 passengers on board which will make this 320neo a squeeze, but that’s what the race-car worthy seats are for.

AirAsia’s CEO said customers can expect “comfort and little things that we’ll do with the seat, like IFE, [a place] to put iPads at the back of the seat, and in-seat power — things we’ve always wanted to do very much.”

Fernandes also shared his impressions after his first visit to AIX in Hamburg, “I’ve never been to an Aircraft Interiors show before and I have to say it’s very impressive.”

We asked, if he was so impressed with the blue sky concepts at the show, why we don’t see more innovation delivered on planes.



It’s not a shortage of dreamers in aviation to blame, but a lack of daredevils, Fernandes suggested.

“I don’t think it’s the [aircraft interiors] industry, per se. I think it’s these airlines who are very nervous to change,” he said. “That gives airlines such as us opportunities. I don’t think any airline would work with Mirus originally. They might get lots of business, now that Air Asia has got into it. But when I look around at the innovation in this room in the short period I’ve been here: one, it’s excited me. Two: from inflight food to WiFi there’s a lot of innovation that doesn’t make it to the airlines because airlines are very conservative. My eyes get lit up when I see all the potential.”

So does Fernandes think this space is ready for disruption?

“It’s ready for disruption — always ready for disruption. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of great ideas and we’ll keep pushing the envelope,” Fernandes said.

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