Next to perpetually imminent successors to Concorde, the use of standing room or saddle seating cabins to boost low fare passenger numbers in operations like Ryanair is one of those stories that keeps finding gullible content providers in the general media.
Last week it was the turn of Shanghai based Spring and Autumn Airlines, 春秋航空, which is the PRC’s only Ryanair clone, to be associated in the western media with this nonsense.
There are several issues, all of them well understood by Ryanair CEO Michael O’ Leary, when he waxed lyrical about them a while back, although the good news is that few in the UK media believed him, and as a shrewd and successful entrepreneur, there is no convincing reason to believe that he believed what he was saying either.
The single aisle jets used by Ryanair (Boeing 737-800s) and Spring and Autumn (Airbus A320s) have certified maximum seat limits of 189 and 180 passengers respectively, which met the required safety standard of an emergency evacuation through half the exits in 90 seconds.
They are also configured at those limits by each airline, indeed by almost every low cost model airline flying either type of jet.
The operations of each type are also framed according to an upper limit for the passenger and baggage payload, not just for when both engines are working, but when one of them suddenly isn’t working, and those particular rules inform the choice the captain must make as to whether to reject a takeoff when an engine fails and bring the jet to a halt in the available runway remaining, or continue the takeoff and then return unless there is a dire emergency on board such as a fire, only when the total mass of the airliner is equal to or less than the maximum certified weight that can be put on the airframe and its landing gear during the mechanical stress of a landing.
These is all straightforward stuff, undoubtedly well known to Ryanair, and we sincerely hope, to Spring and Autumn.
Which means that to increase the passenger load of either type by between 30-50%, each has to be redesigned to meet the higher capacity limit and pass the evacuation test, and airlines using such a configuration would have to be given freshly drawn up manufacturer approved flight manuals specifically dealing with field performance and operating procedures, some of which would preclude the use of shorter runways sometimes encountered at the second or third tier airports favoured by low cost carriers.
These would be very expensive requirements for Boeing or Airbus to meet, and they if they really chose to do so, it would require a purchase of somewhat more than the 240 or so jets in the combined fleets of Ryanair and Spring and Autumn alone, and it would be highly unlikely either maker would then give away their jets at the ridiculously low prices Mr O’Leary is understood to be offering, since his interpretation of the LCC model seems to be that the aircraft and the airports will be made available for free.
There is another point to make about what happens in a survivable but significantly traumatic crash landing if you are strap hanging like a train commuter, spreading the load through your leg and pelvic zones if propped astride a saddle, or lashed to a set of leg restraints.
Basically, it is that there is a risk your legs will be ripped out of their sockets, or at least ‘popped’. This is said to be painful, and unsightly, and likely to provide a really unwelcome additional barrier to beating the flames through the exit, if you are no longer dragging your legs behind you.
Now, any further word on the new supersonic successors to Concorde we were being promised, even before it was withdrawn from service in 2003?