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Take a look at this funky new airline business-class concept that features a sofa bed instead of a recliner

Taylor Rains   

Take a look at this funky new airline business-class concept that features a sofa bed instead of a recliner
The SoFab business class seat.Optimares
  • The "SoFab" business-class concept made by a boutique Italian seatmaker is getting industry attention.
  • The design focuses on saving weight to reduce fuel burn without sacrificing comfort or space.

Next month, winners of the 2024 RedCabin Awards will be announced to recognize innovative aircraft cabin designs that address industry problems relating to things like sustainability, comfort, space, and cost.

One shortlisted sustainability concept is from the boutique Italian aerospace company Optimares. Known as "SoFab," the airline business-class seat uses a convertible sofa bed in lieu of a fully lie-flat reclining seat.

Optimares says this provides more passenger space while still weighing significantly less than competing options thanks to fewer materials used. In the airline industry, every pound saved counts when it comes to fuel burn and the company's bottom line.

Given its sleek and cost-focused design, SoFab has caught the eye of industry professionals. It's up for an award for sustainability from RedCabin, and it was a finalist for the International Yacht & Aviation Awards 2024.

Take a look at the Optimares "SoFab" business class.

At first glance, Optimares' business class concept is visually similar to other premium cabins with its 1x2x1 layout and privacy wings.

At first glance, Optimares
Concept drawing of the Optimares SoFab seat.      Optimares

Based on photos from the 2023 Aircraft Interiors Expo posted by the Runway Girl Network, the seat features many of the perks airlines today configure in business class — pod-like seats with or without doors in a 1×2×1 layout, fit with a large TV, power ports, and a lie-flat bed.

The configuration ensures all passengers have direct aisle access, unlike those on Air India's notoriously dated business class, for example.

One of the biggest differences from competitors is less visual. Unlike many airlines, missing from SoFab is buttons that control the seat and bed.

One of the biggest differences from competitors is less visual. Unlike many airlines, missing from SoFab is buttons that control the seat and bed.
The control panel on Singapore's A350 business-class seat.      Taylor Rains/Insider

Business class has evolved over the decades to have lie-flat beds that adjust using an electronic panel, like the Club Suite on British Airways and "The Room" on All Nippon Airways.

This makes it easy for passengers to set up their bed for sleeping. However, Optimares' design takes that one step further to give customers even more space to lay in any position, including their side, back, front, curled up in a ball, or fully stretched out.

In lieu of the heavy electronics built into these control panels, Opimares opted for a couch that manually converts into a bed — saving weight.

In lieu of the heavy electronics built into these control panels, Opimares opted for a couch that manually converts into a bed — saving weight.
The Optimares seat with the side ottoman deployed.      Optimares

According to Optimares, the seat weight is about 110-132 pounds, depending on the package. That doesn't include the inflight entertainment components, any power or lighting parts, the seat belts, or the life vest.

Those fewer pounds mean less fuel burn, saving airlines money.

This works thanks to the SoFab's moveable ottoman stored under a stationary leg rest between the seat and the television.

This works thanks to the SoFab
A visual inside the SoFab seat.      Optimares

The seat connects to a cushioned leg rest with a second cushioned ottoman stored underneath, which can be manually accessed via a pull tab to create the wide bed — no button required.

This design makes it easier for blind or visually impaired passengers to put together the bed, rather than relying on systems that don't have a tangible response, like buttons and touchscreens, the Runway Girl Network reported after touring the concept at AIX.

The unique design makes the SoFab 50% lighter than similar options, according to Optimares.

The unique design makes the SoFab 50% lighter than similar options, according to Optimares.
The SoFab seat has a fixed shell.      Optimares

The materials that Optimares uses for its business class are acquired from sustainable sources and will be recyclable, it says.

And because there are fewer overall parts to build SoFab, Optimares said there will be a "considerable reduction in the manufacturing of such items" that would lessen the supply chain and result in "less energy during component manufacturing and shipping time costs."

Not only is it lighter, but SoFaB also boasts 25% more bed space when compared to "high-end" business-class seats, according to Optimares.

Not only is it lighter, but SoFaB also boasts 25% more bed space when compared to "high-end" business-class seats, according to Optimares.
The bed on All Nippon Airways. The airline also boasted a couch-like seat, allowing for a wide bed.      Taylor Rains/Insider

According to the company, its SoFab bed measures 78" long and 40" wide. Qatar Airways QSuite, which Startrax named the world's best business class of 2023, has a 21-inch wide bed, though it stretches to 79 inches long.

Other fan-favorites, like Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 business class and ANA's "The Room," stretch 28 and 24 inches across, respectively. These two are already considered above industry standards.

David Proctor, Optimares’ director for global business development, told the Runway Girl Network that SoFab is simply a "sofa bed."

David Proctor, Optimares’ director for global business development, told the Runway Girl Network that SoFab is simply a "sofa bed."
The couch-like seat on All Nippon Airways has a similar teardrop shape as Optimares' SoFab.      Taylor Rains/Insider

"You pull out this simple mechanism to get into a bed space," he said. "The result is: all of the space you have is yours to use, whereas a traditional reclining seat, although you might have space around you, you can't really use it."

When not in bed form, the seat features a curved back and armrest, almost shaped like a teardrop.

Moreover, Optimares said maintaining the seat would be easier because of its simplicity and lack of breakable electronics.

Moreover, Optimares said maintaining the seat would be easier because of its simplicity and lack of breakable electronics.
Optimares' SoFab business-class seat.      Optimares

"This results in the removal of risk that there will be a seat malfunction resulting in the blocking of a seat for sale," Optimares says on its website. "This ensures a high level of risk-free seat availability and little on-board maintenance."

The rest of the SoFab design appears to come with the regular amenities associated with business class.

The rest of the SoFab design appears to come with the regular amenities associated with business class.
The tray table on the SoFab seat.      Optimares

This includes a large tray table, a few storage planes, power outlets, a privacy divider between the middle section seat, and an up to 21-inch fixed television.

According to Optimares, the tray table folds to become a side table when not used for drinks and is flexible enough to allow a passenger to get up from the seat without storing the table.

Though it looks like the storage only consists of a cubby and a nook under the legrest.

Though it looks like the storage only consists of a cubby and a nook under the legrest.
Storage options on the SoFab seat.      Optimares

Many modern business-class products have been implementing more storage space for travelers, like the full closets on Air India. British Airways and Singapore Airlines, for example, have cubbies that fit into the armrest next to the bed.

However, leisure premium passengers — which Optimares appears to be targeting in some of its aircraft products — may not rely so heavily on storage for laptops and the like.

According to the Runway Girl Network, the SoFab seat is designed to fit onto Airbus A330, Airbus A350, and Airbus A320 planes.

According to the Runway Girl Network, the SoFab seat is designed to fit onto Airbus A330, Airbus A350, and Airbus A320 planes.
The side cubby has a place for headphones.      Optimares

The length and seat pitch will differ plane-to-plane, but Optimares said the wider sofa bed does not impede aircraft space.

"The cabin layout ensures a passenger count that meets current market standards in terms of density and revenue generation whilst still enabling a luxurious travel experience," the seatmaker said on its website.

The company also offers the option for a privacy door, but would prefer a solution that doesn't add weight.

The company also offers the option for a privacy door, but would prefer a solution that doesn
The sliding doors on British Airway's Club Suite business class.      Taylor Rains/Business Insider

Privacy doors are slowly becoming the norm in business class. American Airlines is launching its new flagship business this year with full sliding doors, same with Air New Zealand.

Air India added the perk to its product this year, too.

Optimares' concept may be a rare design but similar ideas exist — like the one on Finnair.

Optimares
Finnair's AirLounge business class seat has a table top on the armrest.      Finnair

In 2022, Finnish flag carrier Finnair debuted a seat that doesn't recline, called the AirLounge. Manufactured by Collins Aerospace, the AirLounge is similar to the SoFab in concept, but it still uses electronic components to adjust the seat into a bed.

In a review written for Business Insider, freelance journalist Paul Oswell said he slept well in Finnair's AirLounge, and the space was private thanks to the wide wings of the seat shell.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has similarly ditched touch panels in favor of a manual bed setup like Optmiares, though it's not as convenient on ANZ.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has similarly ditched touch panels in favor of a manual bed setup like Optmiares, though it
The Air New Zealand seat had to be flipped down to make a bed. The recline was controlled by buttons, though.      Taylor Rains/Insider

Air New Zealand's business class seats need to be manually flipped over and set up either by the passenger or the flight attendant. Same with Singapore Airlines' A350 business class, though the latter is much easier.

Both, however, still have buttons to adjust certain parts of the seat, like the recline.

Optimares isn't a household name, but it's no stranger to supplying business-class products to global airlines.

Optimares isn
The Optimares seat on Beond's Airbus A319 all-business-class plane.      Pete Syme/Business Insider

Optimares signed its deal with Hawaiian Airlines back in 2015 to revamp its leisure-focused business class, representing one of its first big-stage projects.

Partnerships with luxury companies, including the private travel arm of Four Seasons and the all-business-class airline Beond, followed — both equipping their planes with Optimares seats.


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