A rather forensic overseas report into the delays in Virgin Australia introducing a new business class seat for its A330s and 777s is something of a blow for competition at the top end of Australian air travel market.

The report in RunwayGirl Network is extensively referenced and looks at problems in getting the sideways oriented seat certified to the necessary safety standards for lateral impact forces.

However there isn’t as yet a detailed response from Virgin Australia, and being the weekend in this country already, it would be unfair to expect it to consult its specialists in the new seating program and respond to the article before the new working week begins.

Virgin Australia graphic of the delayed wide-body business class seat

Besides that, Virgin Australia has kept the market informed about the fact that there are indeed delays.  What the Runway Girl report does raise is a risk that the official estimate of holdups extending to the closing months of this year might prove optimistic.

This would be a real setback for Virgin Australia. The intended seat design by B/E Aerospace is a beautiful and highly appealing design, if relevant only to a tiny fraction of the overall air travel market, and a strong response to the new business class seats Qantas is rolling out in its international and domestic A330 fleet.  These seats began appearing on Qantas A330 flights late last year.

Leadership in excellence at the very top of the Australian corporate air travel market is strongly contested by both Australian flag carriers. That contest may however be under challenge from the reduced willingness of managed business travel accounts to spend as much on such excellence as the airlines require for providing it to be considered a rational investment.

The real contest in excellence may be ‘in the middle’ in main cabin seating that passengers can still fit into without suffering bone pain in their knees, and using fares which don’t come with so many restrictions and ‘gotchas’ that the appetite for business travel is itself undermined as being something better done by web cam or with less face-to-face frequency.

Airlines everywhere need to be careful not to turn flying into something so unpleasant and undesirable that they kill demand.

One thing that Runway Girl didn’t mention was that the highly inclined seat configuration specified by Virgin Australia might also be relevant to its single aisle 737s. If, and this is a very big ‘if” the demand was there, the design could be applied to between four and six such seats at the front of a 737-800 arranged one on each side of the aisle.

Such single aisle application don’t seem to be possible with the in-line forward facing new Qantas A330 business class seat. However unless the business travel market is prepared to show either airline the money for offering such a product over largely shorter haul Australian or trans Tasman routes it is difficult to see either board signing off on such a further escalation of the corporate premium market competition to their 737 fleets.

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