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In Profile:
Unum Aircraft Seating

In Profile:

Unum Aircraft Seating

Shortlisted: Cabin Design - Concept

The International Yacht & Aviation Awards 2024

The International Yacht & Aviation Awards

Name:                           Alan McInnes

Company:                       Unum Aircraft Seating

Position within company:      VP Business Development


Tell us a little about your background in design:

Unum was formed by an experienced team with a strong background in aircraft seating and airline cabin product. We put the passenger as the focal of everything, drawing on our combined knowledge of passenger experience, design engineering, certification, and product support. Our industrial design partners are Acumen Design Associates.

How would you describe your personal design style?

Reliably comfortable, responsibly made.

Where does your design inspiration come from?

At the highest level our inspiration comes from the French aviator and writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who said in his novel Airman’s Odyssey… Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

We aim for an elegant simplicity of design, with a focus on passenger comfort, and a relentless desire to eliminate the unnecessary. We view our products as furniture rather than components / aircraft parts.

In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?

We believe that the airline passenger, especially in business class, is becoming focussed on comfort, quality and experience, rather than a tick list of needless features. Of course, comfort is experiential, therefore the seat must be an enabler of comfort for the passenger, and we use considered design to achieve that. However, a seat can be actively uncomfortable (e.g. if its broken), therefore we must create products that are easy to maintain.

In the airline cabin, products must become more sustainable to enable aircraft operators meet Net Zero targets. That requires a multi-faceted approach on the following topics….

1/ Weight – By far the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of the product is its weight, as the product will fly for ten or more years. This is where our elegant design simplicity delivers excellent results.

2/ Materials – Selecting materials with low embedded carbon, but that will still meet the stringent certification requirements for structural strength and flammability/heat release. We make choices based on embedded carbon rather than price alone.

3/ End-of life – Utilising components that have clearly identified source materials, and with a defined recycling route.

Unum Aircraft Seating
Unum Aircraft Seating
Unum Aircraft Seating
unum aircraft seating

Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2024 and beyond.

Specifically in the aircraft cabin it must be…

Comfort – enabling not prescribing, making it easy for the passenger to find the next position (which is always more comfortable than the last).

Space – after all space=comfort. We cannot create space within the aircraft fuselage therefore we must use the space that we have available as effectively as possible. If we succeed in that, we create a more comfortable experience for the passenger.

Consistency – Most airlines operate multiple fleet types, therefore we must make our products consistent when deployed across all aircraft types. This is becoming increasingly important on the latest single aisle fleets that are increasingly capable of operating mid and long haul flights.

Maintainability – a broken seat can never be comfortable, therefore design products that are both maintainable and easy to maintain

Sustainability – create products that reduce their overall carbon footprint.

If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to design schemes, what would it be?

Do not design in isolation.

In the design development of our products, we always consider manufacturability, certification impact and maintainability. Over the years, there have been too many fantastic design projects for aircraft cabins that have failed because they couldn’t be made, couldn’t be certified and were difficult/impossible to maintain. We want to minimise the design dilution that happens after the industrial design has been passed to product engineering.

What was your favourite project to work on and why?

Inevitably the current project is always the favourite one. If it isn’t the favourite, then we must be doing something wrong!

What was your most challenging project to work on and why?

Any project involving certification and dynamic testing for aerospace is always challenging, involving numerous ‘failed’ development tests as we learn about the performance of the product design in the most extreme 16g dynamic conditions. Of course, development testing is a necessary step in the overall certification and development of the product.

Which products/services could you not live without when designing?

While our design engineering team are heavily reliant on Solidworks, I love the opportunities that the use of Virtual Reality tools brings. With the cost-effective technology now available, we can evaluate the latest product iterations in the (virtual) cabin, same day. This not only brings benefits in the development of the passenger experience, it enables the feedback process to be extremely agile.   

How important are The International Yacht & Aviation Awards?

As a relatively new entrant to the sector, the Awards are important as they allow us to achieve independent recognition our first products and the insightful design solutions that we used to solve common sector problems. They also allow us to reach a wider audience of both commercial and private operators.

What projects are you currently working on?

First customer programme for the Unum One seat for a large corporate jet.

What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?

Enabling comfort for many passengers, by taking Unum One into serial production.

Final thoughts; tell us a little more about yourself and your daily inspirations:

Your most treasured possession?

iPhone (Much as I hate to say it – I’d be lost without it)

Your favourite holiday destination?

Petra (Jordan)

Your favourite hotel, restaurant & bar?

Hotel:             Ibrahim Pasha, Istanbul
Restaurant:     The Ivy
Bar:                The Saracens Head, Glasgow

Your favourite book, film & song?

Book:             On the Road – Jack Kerouac
Film:              Lost In Translation
Song:             In a big country – Big Country

Your favourite food and drink?

South Asian food and a cup of tea and I’m happy

Your favourite way to spend an afternoon?

On the beach

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?

On the beach

Anything else interesting?

I’ve visited 60 countries so far (mostly for work) and would like to add to that tally.

Unum Aircraft Seating

Design Partner: Acumen Design Associates

Unum Aircraft Seating have been shortlisted for Cabin Design – Concept Award in The International Yacht & Aviation Awards 2024.

Unum Aircraft Seating
Unum Aircraft Seating
The International Yacht & Aviation Awards

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