MEET THE MAKER • June 2023
In the first instalment of our Meet the Maker series, chatting to the teams behind our in-flight experience, Emma Blackmore sits down with Head of Cabin Delivery and Standards, Mark Novell, to chat seats and beds, the making of the new Club Suite and what exactly goes into cabin interiors
It’s 1993. A British Airways Concorde is cruising at more than twice the speed of sound and, inside, 19-year-old engineer Mark Novell marvels at the curvature of the Earth. At 60,000 feet, it is a sublime view only a few have witnessed. It is a sight that Mark, now 49, has memorised. Our Head of Cabin Delivery and Standards is as excited to get up for work as he was when he joined us as an apprentice, then a Concorde engineer.
In October last year, Mark became Head of Cabin Delivery and Standards, previously Head of Aircraft Interiors and Technology, accountable for driving the performance of all customer and crew-facing aircraft interior products on the fleet. His current focus? Keeping the standard of interiors top-notch.
“We have products that arrive beautiful on day one but, the more they get used, gradually start to develop deterioration,” Mark, from Berkshire, explains. “We work closely with the engineering team to focus on customer and crew-impacting items to make sure we get it right every time. We’re on a journey and we hope customers will see an improvement in all cabins as we’re moving forward.”
We might imagine premium as plush cushions, seat-to-bed-recliners, a gin and tonic in hand, but what does a premium experience mean for Mark?
“Premium experience is consistency,” he says. “Every time a customer comes on board, they should experience consistently high standards: the product should be functionable, clean and serviceable. It should be what they expect. They see these beautiful products advertised in our marketing literature and that’s exactly what they should see when they come on board.”
To date, Mark has overseen more than 250 aircraft and more than 60,000 passenger seats, galley equipment and ‘soft products’ (that’s anything not bolted down). He worked on the Boeing 777 seat configurations – the well-known yin-yang seats that preceded the Club Suite in our newly revamped Club World cabins. Crafting a Club seat is clearly no mean feat. In fact, the whole process from brainstorming to final inspection can take two to three years.
“We start with a blue skies concept and a design agency,” Mark says. “We talk through multiple detailed concepts, coming up with different models. Our engineering colleagues are absolutely essential in the whole process. They make sure we pick the right materials and the right product. Procurement then works really hard with us to drive the right prices so that we have a seat that is affordable and deliverable.”
To recline or not to recline? We have Mark and his team to thank for us being able to effortlessly push a button and relax into a fully flat bed. He’s currently working on making the aircraft seat actuation systems (that’s the mechanics that make the seat change alignment) a smoother process, as well as improving the smoothness of the doors closing.
“I got to witness the surprise and delight customers had when we first introduced the flat bed seat with the door!” he says. “It was a first in the industry and it was so amazing to see.”
If you’ve ever noticed a change from hard metallic products to softer fabrics in the Club seats, Mark and Design Manager Peter Cooke are the masterminds. “Peter focuses on premium trim and finish quality when he looks for material – there’s a CMF (colours, materials, finish) chartbook to navigate first and then it’s over to the design agency to come up with design models,” Mark explains. “Then a team of aircraft programme execs make it a reality.”
How do you build a new suite? To start with, you draw a Layout of Passenger Arrangements (LOPA) – a map of the seats. “You have to take the footprint of each seat and confirm it will fit between the galleys and between the doors,” Mark says. “It’s a complicated process. There are ‘stay-out zones’. Each of the units is designed to minimise the load transferred from one into another which is why you see gaps at the front and rear of the cabins between the seats and galleys. We have to make sure we have the right ratio of galley space to seat space, toilets to customers.”
Weight is another key factor. “Every extra kilogramme we fly we burn additional fuel,” explains Mark. “Of course, there’s the environmental side to this as well as the ability for the aircraft to fly.” And if you ever thought premium finishings might be heavier, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. There’s a balance, Mark says, and materials are all ruthlessly examined. “There’s a lot of composite materials in the furniture around the seat,” he explains. “The seats are typically a sturdy frame with a number of motors and actuators in it – all tested to 16G, making them robust and strong.”
New seats are rolled out on board over the course of three years, so customers can test them and the team can identify any teething faults. “As you can imagine, with the size of our fleet it’s a pretty complex operation,” says Mark.
Every nook and cranny of an aircraft is intricately designed and inspected, which means there are hundreds of people involved to ensure we all enjoy ultimate comfort when flying.
“The aircraft programme team delivers a brilliant idea of a product and then we hand it over to engineering, which works with Supply to deliver it,” Mark says. “Paul Taylor is our Engineering Cabin Manager and he brilliantly leads that team.”
James Wheatley is Engineering Programme Manager for Club Suite. “James was an absolute constant on this journey,” Mark smiles. “He was the brilliant interface with the seat supplier and the customer team and he ensured everything was kept on track and moving forward.”
You certainly can’t accuse Mark Novell of not being dedicated to his job. His hardworking nature shines through as he tells The Club about his day-to-day processes. But what, for him, is the best part of it all? “I come in every day and I’m able to make a difference to the customers’ experience,” he says. “I love every day with my team. We look every day at standard of delivery and work out what we can do to elevate it. That’s what makes it a great job to do. After 33 years, I still get up every day and enjoy coming in.”
Aisle or window?
For me, I like a window and an aisle seat – like the Club Suite!
What’s the one thing you always have in your luggage?
An adapter plug, without fail.
Last destination you visited/flight you were on?
Heathrow to Winston-Salem and then on to LAX.
Go-to inflight drink of choice?
Champagne would be my number one or one of our English sparkling wines!
Favourite part of the Club Suite?
The best part is the door – it’s got an incredible function.
Easy one. Concorde. I was lucky enough to get to travel on it twice.