Among the many new innovations and concepts on display this year, the one that managed to catch everyone’s eye was the Not For Wimps (NFW) seat design on Contour Aerospace’s stand.

The UK seat manufacturer had teamed up with London design agency Factorydesign to create a prototype dedicated to in-flight gaming entertainment. “The concept design and creation of this seat shows our long-standing commitment as a company to the very highest level of innovation in the industry,” says Contour’s technical sales director, Bob Lovell. 

Contour knew it wanted to create a show-stopper and stimulate debate within the industry and so its brief was to create ‘something different’. Factorydesign’s alternative response to this brief won Contour over.

“Factorydesign took an unconventional approach to pitching for this work. Rather than supply us with sketches, they simply wrote us a one-page letter explaining their thinking. We felt that they would be the most likely to push the boundaries furthest,” says Lovell.

And he should know, as this wasn’t the first time that Contour had worked with Factorydesign – the companies collaborated previously on the creation of the last seats fitted to the Concorde.

Factorydesign felt that current business-class seats are rather outdated for some younger travellers. With the technology now available on smartphones and tablets, passengers are evolving and want more from their onboard experience than just a lie-flat bed and fine dining.

“NFW is designed to appeal to customers who would rather spend their time on long-haul flights locked in a gaming or viewing experience rather than dropping off to sleep,” says Adam White, director at Factorydesign.

The concept, as its name suggests, is as much about attitude as design. It features a large arc of composite Kevlar and carbon fibre that rises up from the top of a curving bucket seat and extends over the passenger to clip into a monitor in front.

While essentially a video gaming station, the design can be adapted as technology advances or become a docking station for passengers to use their own devices. The seat also has speakers integrated into it, creating a bubble of sound around the passenger.

“NFW is a Marmite seat. But love or hate it, it has created the stir required and for us it carries the important message about change,” says White.

“There is a new generation of younger business travellers who relish a few hours of uninterrupted time for PlayStation, and to eat a snack of sushi and chill with the latest audio-visual content. The fine dining and flat beds are not very exciting to them.”

The prototype is also attractive because its lightweight design means considerable fuel savings and less CO2 spewed into the environment.

Although NFW may seem rather radical now – certainly not everyone is ready for a fully immersive gaming experience – you have to bear in mind that it takes a long time for any new designs to actually make their way onto an aircraft.

“The rigorous, some might say tortuous, process of airworthiness certification means that by the time things are ready to fly, they are out of date,” says White.

“This gives airlines a very tricky time indeed when it comes to selecting an in-flight entertainment system and who to bring in to provide the screen and entertainment package because it is not about what they offer today, it is about how efficiently they can upgrade tomorrow.”

If Contour’s aim was to create a buzz around its new prototype, it has certainly achieved that, judging by the reaction at the Expo.

“People can’t place an immediate order for the NFW but we are hoping to stimulate much debate with airlines. We want to know whether such radical thinking is viable,” says Lovell.

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