Coming soon: HK to build supersonic passenger jets

I had a strange dream recently. I was listening to the radio, and the newsreader reported that Hong Kong had devised a new sort of aircraft seat. Thanks to materials 30-40% lighter than those used by manufacturers elsewhere, a new high-value aircraft components industry was to be born right here in the Big Lychee. Then a man came on to explain. Rather than being an inventor or entrepreneur, he sounded like a self-satisfied civil servant. The radio station guy started by asking for more details about the new type of seat, but the man insisted on delivering a prepared statement on the growth prospects of the airline industry. Then I woke up, had a shower and got on with real life, never giving the bizarre and illogical reverie a moment’s thought.

Except I now find I didn’t dream it. The Standard quotes Hong Kong Productivity Council chairman Clement Chen as saying: “We started with the development of an aircraft cabin seat to help our industry take off.”

The HKPC was founded in the 1960s to encourage the city’s garment and plastics sweatshops to upgrade. The factories are history now, but the bureaucratic empire – like its cousin the HK Trade Development Council – carries on, seeking new roles to justify its existence. Like launching a local aircraft parts industry (though with the manufacturing to be based over the border).

The costs of developing this new space-age aircraft seat were borne by us – the humble Hong Kong taxpayer, via the government’s (late 1990s) Innovation and Technology Fund, which supports all manner of scientific wondrousness and ingenuity. The know-how, the HKPC says, will be transferred to a consortium called Universal Aviation Industrial Ltd, which includes six local companies and apparently has a factory in Dongguan. I would like to think the taxpayer gets his money back in some way, but the press release neglects to say. Still, it’s a snip at HK$253,000. (Would this be the same Dongguan that is going the way of Hong Kong’s old industrial base thanks to the rising Yuan and labour costs? Why, yes it would be.)

What I find amazing is that dozens of profit-driven, technologically advanced aircraft components companies around the world had this carbon composite-plus-Dongguan formula staring them in the face, yet it took a redundant Hong Kong public-sector organization to spot it. Either these German and Japanese engineers are stupider than we think, or a Hong Kong bureaucrat is deluding himself and the miraculous new aircraft seat won’t fly. (I can’t say I’m encouraged by the HKPC’s proud declaration that it is “Hong Kong’s first passenger aircraft cabin seat in full compliance with international aviation safety standards.” We made earlier ones that weren’t?)

Government-funded technological R&D is an avowed policy of various politicians in Hong Kong, including lawmaker Regina Ip, despite the disappointing track records of Singaporean, French and other dirigiste leaderships who think they can use the public’s money more productively than private investors will use their own. Thinking a state-owned Disneyland is normal doesn’t help. I look forward to hearing on the radio one day that Hong Kong has become the world’s leading aircraft seat hub – and wondering whether I dreamt it.

On the subject of private investors putting their own money to good use… At a lunch a few months ago, I met someone who runs his own family’s investment fund – a big set-up with offices and full-time staff. He was complaining that he wanted to invest in long-term, sound business that generated good returns by providing useful and honest goods or services. They were going over countless proposals in fields like healthcare, services for retirees, educational toys, niche retailing and heaven knows what else. “And every single time,” he said, “when we crunch the numbers, we could get much better returns in real estate.”

Click to hear ‘Expecting to Fly’ by the Buffalo Springfield!

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18 Responses to Coming soon: HK to build supersonic passenger jets

  1. maugrim says:

    One wonders what a HK designed airline seat would look like? Perhaps the buttons could be designed to be pressed 6 or 7 times so as to make any function ‘go faster’, perhaps the seat could be clad in some sort of faux Louis Vuitton brown plastic, adorned with something kawaii like a bear’s head or similar so as to look ‘cuter’. Perhaps the back of the seat in front can come with a large mirror so that stray hairs, zits and general narcissism could occur for hours on end along with a toilet roll. The possibilities are endless.

  2. Probably says:

    I’m waiting for the “Hello Kitty” option.

  3. Probably says:

    But seriously, the only reason any start-up company could get into this sort of sector which has well established standards were if they had some sort of Unique Selling Point, usually some marvellous innovation such as to make the seats just as safe and comfortable for say half the weight, which if it hasn’t already been revealed then I seriously doubt ids the case.
    No serious avaition company or aircraft manufacturer would consider them otherwise when there are already established players out there who are striving for the same unless we are thinking about Chinese…..oh!

  4. Walter De Havilland says:

    The new seat has a volume control that goes to 11!

  5. Doanld the Lame Duck says:

    Maugrim, that is genius. Particularly the repeat button pushing function. Ideally, access to the new fangled seats should also be limited to those who have engaged professional queuers to wait in line for them.

  6. FB3 says:


    You forgot to mention that the seat width of 22″ includes 5″ of space shared in the departure lounge.

  7. Sen says:

    The USP is of course using Boobam in making the seat. Boobam is bamboo which is painstakingly turned inside out so that the soft inner bits cushion you while the hard outer bits now form the inner support. The seats will be manufactured in a factory which will be feng shuied to face exactly NNE so that any item produced within will be guaranteed to be indestructible [as long as facing NNE]

  8. Longtimenosee says:

    Docking port for your jockey club betting devices and a cup noodle holder.

  9. Doofus says:

    22″ also includes the shared aisles, toilets, gap between the window and fuselage, overhead lockers, cockpit and crew sleeping quarters, leaving a net seat area or 8″. Ideal for shapely Shanghai Tang cheongsam-draped bottoms but ill-suited to more wholesome behinds.

  10. maugrim says:

    Donald you are right, we could incorporate other HK elements to create a more authentic airport experience for visitors, for example, lets do away with those pesky First/Bus/Econ queues, why not make it so family members can join various lines only to come together en masse when the fastest moving line gets to the front. Perhaps they could dig, re-lay and then re-dig areas of airport concourse over and over again. For fun, there could be a $2 discount machine that encourages passengers to walk to gate 70 at the farthest reaches of the terminal before returning to board their flight. Even better, the flights themselves could remove personal inflight entertainment and have it broadcast without the need of any earphones at all. Of course such a service wouldn’t have an ‘off’ button.

  11. Stephen says:

    Presumably the bureaucratic empire will forward the project to the usual suspects – SHK, Hutch, NW or Henderson – and Clement Chen will take early retirement from Government and join them as CEO, after getting the nod from Denise Yue that all is good.

  12. Real Tax Payer says:

    I got halfway through Maugrim’s comment and thought to myself : “what about the hello kitty version? ”

    Then I read on and saw Probably had the same instant thought

    Great minds think a-kitty


  13. maugrim says:

    RTP it was a deliberate omission. Hello Kitty is a pox. A pox I say!

  14. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Maugrim

    I agree it’s a pox. And a horrible spotty one at that

    But it’s amazing that you also thought of dear kitty as well as Probably and me

    Talking about “off ” buttons”, I remember the days when China railways put their then equivalent of the CMB video screens on the trains to Guangzhou. Except they were real TVs ( no flat panel screens then) and they were blaring soap kung-fu shows the whole way. Pow pow ! Zzzzzzzzzzzzing ! Wham ! Wah ! And only the ex-prison camp commandant train “service” staff had the remote control. FORTUNUATELY … being an engineer by trade, I noticed that the TVs had a power connection to the wall, which I would quietly unplug and then stick some insulating tape inside the socket before replugging . The other passengers who noticed me doing this all smiled ( some even cheered), and they smiled even more when the service girl next came by and, noticing the screen was off, spent the next 5 minutes furiously pushing her remote control buttons ( she must have been trained on a HK lift ) . Ah golden days when queues were REAL queues and flat panel screens were not invented.

  15. Iffy says:

    Everybody in fantastic form today!

  16. Probably says:

    Is that great minds think a-kitty alike but fools seldom differ?

  17. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Unfortunate mistranslation in this article:

    The passengers weren’t demanding compensation, they were demanding extra comfortable Hong Kong-designed seating.

    Perhaps HKPC can include a “Register for compensation” button on their seats. I imagine most mainland passengers would focus entirely on jabbing that as many times as possible throughout the flight, then doubling up with a second compensation claim for repetitive strain injuries. The seats could then do without entertainment systems, reducing the unit cost and entertainment licensing costs considerably. This is design economics with Chinese characteristics.

  18. Des Espoir says:

    Try looking up the annual reports for the past few years for the HK Productivity Council – you will find that its turnover per employee (i.e. its productivity) has actually been going down for some years….

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