MONTREAL – Six months after assuming control of the program formerly known as the Bombardier CSeries, Airbus presented a state of the A220 update.

The most significant newsworthy item of their presentation was that the A220 achieved Extended Twin Operations (ETOPS) 180-minute certification from Transport Canada.

The A220, therefore, became the first commercial plane built in Canada to obtain such certification. The Pratt & Whitney GTF engine has achieved FAA part 33 certification.

EASA and FAA certification for the aircraft itself is pending with no timeline given, with the U.S. government shutdown undoubtedly slowing the certification process.

With a maximum range of 3,200nm/5,920km, ETOPS 180 is a critical milestone for the A220.

This range grants the aircraft the capability to operate long-haul routes such as New York-London, Los Angeles-Honolulu, and Seoul-Darwin, as well as opening multiple point-to-point routes.

Upcoming A220 customers like JetBlue and the code-named Moxy have already voiced interest in operating new ETOPS routes across the North Atlantic with the A220.

Currently, the longest haul flight operated by the A220 is Air Baltic’s six hours, 30 minutes mission between Riga and Abu Dhabi, though that is largely over land.

Positive Year For The Order book

The A220 program had a banner year reaching 537 orders from 19 customers, including two who remain as “undisclosed.”

These included the much-ballyhooed orders of 60 aircraft each from JetBlue and the Neeleman startup known as Moxy. But much work remains to ensure the long-term success of the program.

Also, last week Delta Air Lines increased its order from 75 planes to 90, just a few weeks ahead of its proposed entry into service, scheduled to happen on January 31 from New York-LaGuardia and Boston/Dallas.

Ramping Up Production, Cutting Costs

Production of the A220 has yet to meet the original forecasts by Bombardier.

Thirty-three aircraft were delivered in 2018, with 18 of those since Airbus took the lead in the joint-venture in July. These 33 planes are a noticeable increase from the 17 aircraft that were delivered in 2017.

To satisfy the current 480 aircraft backlog, Airbus’ current production rates between its two Montreal Mirabel Final Assembly Lines (FAL) have risen to four aircraft per month with the maximum capability of 10 units per month total, though this rate isn’t expected to be reached until the middle of the 2020s.

The forthcoming Mobile, Alabama single line FAL will have a maximum capacity of four aircraft per month at full capacity – the same as the current A320 output at that location.

Airbus does have the real estate in both locations to build additional FALs.

Though the aircraft has been very well received by customers and passengers, it’s commercial woes are well known. From its 2008 launch as the CSeries, the program was originally owned and developed entirely by Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.

The CSeries program nearly tanked Bombardier so the Québec provincical government bailed out the program. Boeing’s tariff campaign on the heels of the Delta order placed the solvency of the program in further jeopardy, but ultimately forced the program into Airbus hand.

On October 17, 2017 Airbus announced its intention to acquire a 50.01% majority stake in the CSeries Aircraft Limited Partnership, while Bombardier and Investissement Québec owning approximately 34% and 16% respectively.

Beyond improving sales and marketing campaigns, costs have become the focus on Airbus goal of creating a profitable program.

Airbus is dedicated to reducing unit costs by “significant double digits” to make the program profitable, according to Philippe Balducchi, CEO A220 Partnership.

Balducchi says, “Airbus is leveraging lessons learned from the A350 ramp up of new aircraft to the A220.” 

“Production ramp-up is a challenge here as it is on all new aircraft. We found challenges here but that wasn’t a surprise,” he said.

“We need to improve though”, added Florent Massou, head of A220 Program and an Airbus veteran who moved from the mother-ship in Toulouse to Montreal.

“The Airbus Machine,” as they call it, leads most arenas, with procurement from the nearly 100 partners a prime responsibility.

Airbus has many levers to pull on its own internal assembly processes but seeks to “improve quality and efficiency of output from suppliers and have ‘commercial discussions’ (with the suppliers) to lower costs.”

There was very little elaboration on how Airbus aims to increase the  production rate but according Balducchi everyone is on the same page.

“There is a common willingness to get in that model. We have changed some internal processes…but we have two similar cultures which have become one.”

On the flip side, Airbus too has learned best practices from the existing CSeries program, particularly in aircraft health monitoring and diagnostics, as well as on the leading edge Customer Service Center.

2018-19 is considered a milestone year.  In 2018, beyond the rebranding of the program, the A220 received CAT III Autoland certification, and added a new operator with Air Tanzania – the airline’s first in Africa.

2019 is already off to a fast start with Delta topping off its already formidable order book of 75 aircraft with an additional 15 planes. 

Delta’s entry-into-service date of January 31t is in doubt partially due to delays in the FAA certification process caused by the U.S government shutdown, however.

Three new operators are expected this year. Air Canada is scheduled to receive their first aircraft in December, though the airline’s entry-into-service will begin in January 2020.

Additionally, Airbus will open a new Customer Delivery Center by the Fourth Quarter at an investment of CAD$30 Million.

The Airbus America A220 FAL groundbreaking is scheduled for Wednesday morning in Mobile.

Assembly of the first dozen Airbus America A220s will begin this year in an existing facility, but completed on the new line with new deliveries likely in mid 2020 to Delta or JetBlue.

Airbus, who has just begun hiring for the Mobile Brookley FAL, is expected to bring 400 additional new jobs to the area.

A220: Additional Odds & Ends

Airbus revealed a few more interesting tidbits as well not communicated before:

Air Tanzania is the only carrier thus far to take the highly touted 18.5” wider middle seat in economy.

The A220 is the first narrow body aircraft to have GoGo 2KU Wi-Fi installed at the factory, rather than after delivery.

Delta is the first customer for this install, along with the wireless WiFi embedded inflight entertainment system.

The aircraft itself will also debut a dual aft lavatory with up to 149 passenger capacity with a single over-wing exit door, in 2019.

Airlines have reported the A220 over-achieving performance “with even less fuel burn than anticipated.”

But maintenance has turned out to be a positive story as well. The well-documented Pratt & Whitney GTF issues have left the A220 relatively unaffected.

Airbus claims that the A220 can operate 10 days with no checks. Thus far, there have been 135 A-checks with “no findings with the first C-check now in progress,” according to Rob Dewar, Head of A220 Engineering & Customer Support.

Dewar, often known as the “Father of the A220 / CSeries program” was delighted to report that the 57 aircraft in service are close to achieving 99% dispatch reliability flying 170+ routes to 103+ destinations. Swiss, airBaltic, Korean, and Air Tanzania are the current operators.

Airbus forecasts demand approximately 7,000 100-150 seat aircraft in the next 20 years.

And what about up-gauging the current platform to what was referred to as the CS500 / A220-500 which would bump up in capacity near that of the Airbus A320neo?

Airbus’ Balducchi played this down stating, “There is potential for a third member of the program but we’re focused on the first members of the family.”

Customer Testimonial: Air Canada

Many have speculated that the A220 had a home-field advantage when Montreal-based, Air Canada, placed its order for 45 A220-300s back in February 2016.

That was a definite plus, according to Air Canada’s Mark Galardo, Vice-President Network Planning, but “ordering the A220 was a very sound business decision.”

“The decision to purchase it was as a result of analysis of fleet and network. This product was too good to pass up and is a key part of Air Canada’s long-term strategy,” Galardo said.

Air Canada views the A220 as a “game changer that will create markets that didn’t exist before.”

“We saw this before with the CRJ in the 1990s which created nearly 20 new city-pairs in one year, increasing our trans-border market share by 30%. Today we’re the largest foreign carrier serving the U.S. in terms of market share,” he said.

When it enters service in January of 2020, the sweet spot of the A220-300 will be in its positioning on existing high frequency, medium-haul routes and creating new pairs being explored, such as Montreal-Seattle, Vancouver-Washington DC, Halifax-Vancouver, and Toronto-Monterrey.

Though there are no ETOPS operations planned for Air Canada’s A220-300s, the new aircraft will be central to fueling the airline’s status as the fastest growing international airline in the world by RPKs with a particular emphasis on providing connecting flow between the U.S. and Air Canada’s long-haul international destinations via its hubs in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

Air Canada considers the plane a “hub buster that will drive an additional 1% of market share and an additional CAD$1 Billion in incremental revenue. We believe it will deliver a 15% cost advantage over the E-190s we currently fly,” remarked Galardo.

The Airbus North America Tour continues with a briefing in Mobile, Alabama for Airbus Americas and the historic groundbreaking of the new A220 Final Assembly line.

Airways will be covering live on our social media channels. Stay tuned for more.