Gulf Air to get revamp

11 Apr 2008 by Mark Caswell

Bahrain-based airline Gulf Air is to undergo a major revamp, with aircraft interiors, livery, uniforms and lounges all due to be redesigned.

The airline has gone through some tricky times recently (see online news April 19, 2007) with the rapid expansion of other UAE carriers such as Emirates, Qatar and Etihad. But the news that it is to revamp its exisiting fleet, alongside US$6 billion worth of orders for the delayed Boeing 787 Dreamliner, suggests the airline is determined to regain market share.

Gulf Air says it aims to become “the carrier of choice” and has contracted high-end design consultants James Park Associates (JPA) to carry out all aspects of the redesign. JPA has carved a niche for itself in aircraft interior design in recent years, winning competitions to design the business class seating on Singapore Airline’s A380s, as well as the business and first class product on the carrier’s 777-300 ER aircraft.

The exact details of the Gulf Air revamp have yet to be released, but speaking to Business Traveller, James Park said that it would include the seating product. Given that its closest rivals all now offer, or are in the process of fitting fully-flat beds in business class, it would seem likely that Gulf Air will look to follow suit.

Park said that the airline’s current brand had worked for them for some time, and that JPA would look to build on it, creating a strong brand image which clearly differentiated Gulf Air from the competition. The redesign process is expected to take between 18 months and two years.

Park said: “We are starting out on a market research programme which I hope will give us some pointers. It [Gulf Air] is an international airline and an international business, but one that clearly needs to relate to Bahrain as the owner.”

He added that where required by the client, JPA would be involved in not only the design but also the mechanics of any new seating product.

Park said: “We differentiate ourselves from most other design companies in this respect because we go quite a long way with the mechanical aspects of the chairs, so we’ll develop both the functions of the seat and its styling, as well as [being involved in] the beginning stages of the engineering, so we can hand to the vendor a fairly comprehensive set of information.”

JPA is also currently working on the US$100 million renovation of the Pierre hotel in New York, part of the Taj Hotels group, and Park recognised the different challenges posed by designing interiors for an aircraft as opposed to a five-star hotel.

Park said: “With an aircraft project we have a lot of safety issues that we have to observe. The other issue, of course, is that we are working with a very restricted space, so what we’re trying to do is offer as much amenity and comfort as possible within a very small area. There is a lot more freedom within a hotel, and there’s a different level of theatre or poetry involved within the spaces, but we like to think that there’s some level of relationship between them, and that the level of experience is seamless all the way through.”

JPA will no doubt draw from the experience of designing the new seating for SIA, a product which Park says he is very happy with. He said: “I think it’s a classic seat and I’m very satisfied with the outcome of it. I hope and expect it to satisfy SIA’s needs for quite a long time. It’s a classic design that is not going to go out of style – it will always be accepted as a good seat.”

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Report by Mark Caswell

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