When Lufthansa equips its aircraft with new seats, what happens to the old ones? The answer is: They are refurbished and resold. There’s much demand for second-hand seats
Jürgen Rumstig is a former pilot who operates out of an ordinary-looking warehouse complex in Babenhausen, Hesse. These days, he has the interesting job of selling second-hand Lufthansa aircraft seats. Forklift trucks buzz around what are often many thousands of blocks of seat rows inside the warehouse, where they are waiting to be refurbished and resold. The triple-seat rows have already been overhauled and hermetically wrapped in protective black plastic. They look like pianos waiting to be shipped. “Many of them are only three years old and some are almost new,” Rumstig explains.
The demand is huge, and Lufthansa seats are popular. Ninety percent of Rumstig’s customers are small European, Middle Eastern and African airlines. For them, an aircraft’s “shipsets,” as the fully quota of seats is known in the trade, are a good deal because they’re immediately available, cost a third less than new seats and are often as good as new. Shipping to the Americas is too expensive and also logistically problematic because aircraft seats usually go by road. But Rumstig also sells seats to shipping lines, which install them on their ferries, and to a salt mine that uses them to transport miners below ground. Perhaps the most famous seat he has sold is the one that stands on the touchline at Bayern Munich’s home stadium. The soccer club needed something that could withstand any and all of its coach’s emotional outbursts. Now no other seat is shown more often on German TV.
Aircraft seats are built to last and need to be robust with up to eight passengers sitting in them every day. That’s over 2,500 passengers a year per seat. The general music director of an opera house could only dream of filling seats this often. Assuming that the average passenger weighs 75 kilos, then one of these pieces of lightweight furniture weighing just a few kilos has to hold up under a total weight of roughly 190 tons distributed over the year. But that’s not all that’s required of a Lufthansa aircraft seat. Before it can fly, it has to be certified, a process involving rigorous testing under extreme conditions. For instance, a seat must be able to withstand maximum acceleration, which creates a g-force of 16. No human being could tolerate that. To give you a comparison, the g-force exerted on a commercial passenger plane in a curve is no more than 2. Formula One drivers undergo a g-force of 4 when they careen around a corner, and in Germany at least, rollercoasters and similar fairground rides are not allowed to exert a force on passengers of more than 6g.
Now it’s time to start work on the seats. “We take off the covers for cleaning, and then, if necessary, replace the foam rubber cushion.” Leather seat covers are twice as expensive but last four times as long as fabric ones. For Jürgen Rumstig there’s no doubt about it: “We’re selling a premium product.” Private individuals are also welcome to buy Lufthansa seats, perhaps for use in home cinemas or as an office chair – upholstered in fine leather with an Italian-style star base. As office chairs, though, they lose their airworthiness. Their certification sticker is removed and from then on they have to remain on the ground.