Interview with Mark Hiller, CEO of Recaro Aircraft Seating

Emilie Drab in Hamburg
11/04/2019 | 837 words
Interview with Mark Hiller, CEO of Recaro Aircraft Seating
Aircraft Interiors proved to be an intense show for Recaro Aircraft Seating, which unveiled a new light seat for the economy classes on Airbus and Boeing narrow body planes, which will be launched on TAP Air Portugal's A320/A321neos, a new set of modifications to its long haul economy class seat intended to improve passenger comfort, a partnership with Jetlite to adapt each seat's lighting to its passenger's profile, or a new customer Cebu Pacific, for one of its economy class platforms (SL3510) for its A321neo fleet, to name just a few of the company's activities. It was a busy show, perfectly in keeping with the German company's development image, as its CEO Mark Hiller explained to us.

What was your growth like in 2018 and what are your perspectives?

Our turnover increased by 20% in 2018 and exceeded 500 million Euro for the first time ever. This is a very good result because the seat market is growing by 5% per year. We think that we can continue along the same trend, with perhaps slightly less strong growth this year, but which will still be well above 10% and may even come close to 20%. There are a few uncertainties, such as the impact of the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX, which we can't estimate yet. But for the next few years and for the long term, our growth should also be around 10%. To achieve this we are taking the growth in the market and are working to keep winning market share, in particular by increasing our production capabilities with new sites in China and Poland. We are the market leader in economy class. We also want to become the leader in business class within ten years.

Are your results mostly driven by line-fit or retrofit?

For the moment, most of our activity is on the line-fit segment. But we are seeing retrofit take a larger and larger share. There are two reasons for this. First of all, our customers, both old and new, refit the rest of their fleet when they install on new seat on a particular plane. The other reason is ageing cabins and their quicker and quicker renewal.

What is your R&D investment and for which class is it mainly intended?

We invest over 10% of our income in R&D. We have 500 engineers who are working on new product and new solutions to improve passenger comfort and our innovations are protected by over 300 patents. This investment is made in all travel classes, even if the vast majority of our production is currently geared towards economy class, and we have new features to present for each one.

What direction do you think the cabin market will develop in? Towards connected cabins, greater segmentation or something else ?

Over and above the search for efficiency, there is one major trend, digitisation. This will develop significantly over the years to come, but it will take time, for development, certification and deployment. Before this, development will be more towards flexibility. There will be more and more segmentation, with different sorts of segmentation, for example with economy class families. Airlines have become much more flexible with their booking system. Before, there was a desire to have a homogeneous, integrated economy class with 300 seats. Airlines have changed their position on this and now propose sections of cabin with increased pitch or a wider seat, in order to be able to sell them at a different price and to better meet the needs of their passengers.

What will be the major developments in business class?

In business class there will be more and more privacy, as we are currently seeing with doors and separators. Everything will be much more geared towards personalisation. And JetLite is an example of this. But it will also be a question of controlling your environment: lighting, noise, and so on, to create your own environment. That will really be the issue.

And in economy class?

There won't be a revolution, but we are going to significantly improve comfort for sleeping. It's a major step, even in a restricted pitch, to improve comfort.

What is your position on the Premium Economy market?

We have a very fine market share in Premium Economy class. In particular, we have Qantas, British Airways, Air Canada and more. We have been innovators in this segment and we committed very early. Premium Economy is now standard. Five years ago, airlines were still wondering if there was any point to it and if they could afford it. Now, when an airline commits to Premium Economy it starts with 24 seats. It works and so they extend it to 36 seats or more, nibbling away at business or economy class. This is really the trend: once an airline has decided on Premium Class it increases this cabin. At the moment, among traditional airlines 70% have equipped themselves with or have decided to equip themselves with Premium Economy.

Emilie Drab
Assistant editor
Civil aerospace, Air transport

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