Boeing-Adient Seats Venture Targets 'Entire Market'

Original collaboration agreement between the parties was signed in 2017.

Adient Aerospace, the aircraft seats joint-venture (JV) between German automotive seat-maker Adient and Boeing, is fully operational, and the company plans to move ahead with a business plan "that addresses the entire market," CEO Alan Wittman tells Aviation Week.

Boeing and Adient announced Oct. 16 that it has cleared all regulatory hurdles, freeing it to move beyond a collaboration agreement (CA) signed last year and operate as a stand-alone venture.

The two companies announced their JV plans in January. Their target: grabbing a piece of a commercial-aircraft seating market projected to grow from last year's $4.5 billion to $6 billion by 2026. Adient will focus on both the new, buyer-furnished-equipment market and retrofits, with a particular eye on the latter, Wittman said. 

The bulk of the commercial-seating market is generally considered to be divided into thirds--one-third new Airbus aircraft, one-third new Boeing aircraft, and one-third retrofit opportunities across in-service fleets. But fleet-growth projections mean that the retrofit market is expected to increase over the next decade, creating opportunities across airline fleets. "We expect to see [retrofit] closer to 50%," said Wittman, Boeing's former seating supply-chain director and 787 director of business operations.

While the JV envisions developing a broad product line, its initial focus is lie-flat business-class seats. It developed prototypes under the CA and has shown them off at industry events. Wittman said the company is talking to airlines, and while it is "too soon to say" when the first customer will be announced, feedback thus far has been positive.

"The customers we talk to are all open and excited about having another strong choice for their seating needs," he said. "They want someone who is going to be reliable in terms of development and delivery, including quality."

Wittman's roles at Boeing give him firsthand perspective on what happens when cabin suppliers do not meet their delivery targets. The 787 was one of several programs hit with delivery delays when seating specialist Zodiac Aerospace faced major production challenges that started in 2014.

Wittman emphasized that while the joint venture will benefit from Boeing's aircraft-production and supply-chain experience, it will not operate as an extension of the U.S. aircraft-maker. Boeing is focusing on ramping up its Boeing Global Services (BGS) business, but Adient Aerospace will operate outside the business unit, at arm's length, competing for work alongside other seating suppliers. BGS's Aviall division will handle spares distribution for the venture, but the BGS link ends there. The JV's revenues will be accounted for on Adient's balance sheet, and Boeing will receive its share via payments.

Adient Aerospace will continue to build up its team, which now has about 50 staff. In addition to confirming Wittman as the full-time CEO, the company tapped its partners for several other management positions. Coming over from Adient are COO Jason Fahlbush, CFO Jörg Kaib, and VP engineering Frank Toenniges. VP of sales & marketing Gary Senechal and VP of certification & regulatory compliance Stefanie Rautio have joined from Boeing.

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