HAMBURG — On Tuesday July 23rd, at 3:00 PM C.E.T (9 AM US E.S.T/6 AM P.S.T), Fort Worth based American Airlines took delivery of its first Airbus A319, registered as N8001N, with manufacturer’s serial number (MSN) 5678. American Airlines and Airbus held a joint delivery event at their facility in the Finkenwerden borough of Hamburg to commemorate the occasion; American’s first Airbus aircraft in the fleet since the A300-600 were retired in 2009, the first American Airlines purchase of new Airbus equipment since 1988, and the first ever Airbus narrow-bodies in American’s fleet. Airchive was graciously invited along to witness the day’s events. We provided background coverage on the aircraft, its significance for Airbus and American, and the role of the A319 in American’s fleet and network yesterday in Part 1. Today, we’ll be focusing on the events of the day itself.
I was joined on the adventure by fellow #avgeeks Craig West of “Airliner World”, Ian Mckinnon of “MRO Magazine”, Edward (Ned) Russell of “Flightglobal”, and several local journalists from Germany. Our day started at the hotel in central Hamburg, from where we were transferred by bus to the massive Airbus facility.
We began with a press briefing from Airbus’ German head of communications Florian Seidel (pictured below), who gave us an introduction to Airbus and the role it plays in Germany. His press briefing was long and covered lots of different ground, but he shared a couple of interesting pieces of information. According to Florian, roughly 35% of every Airbus A320 family aircraft is assembled in Germany, 35% in France, 17% in Great Britain, and the remainder in Spain (the four major countries that joined together to form Airbus). Also, he told us that the Airbus A350, which we covered the first flight of, is nearing 100 flight test hours with flight testing going ‘quite well.’ He concluded the presentation with a video outlining Airbus’ future vision; featuring the Airbus concept plane, alternative fuel technology, and flying cars amongst others. We were also presented an Airbus bag with what most people would call trinkets, but to aviation lovers such as myself, can only be described as “swag.”
After the presentation, it was time for a factory tour of Airbus’ Hamburg facility, reportedly the world’s 3rd largest site for global aviation manufacturing after Seattle and Tolouse. We will be doing an in-depth story about the factory itself but I will share some of the highlights here. First, we visited the A380 cabin assembly. Parts of the fuselage and much of the cabin systems for every Airbus airplane are built in Hamburg. The only aircraft with final assembly lines (FALs) at Hamburg is the Airbus A320 family; for which there are 3 FALs at Hamburg (the largest manufacturing site), 1 in Toulouse, and 1 in Tianjin, China (with one soon to come to the US at Mobile, Alabama). The A380 cabin systems outfitting takes 6 hangars, and the site is used to deliver A380s to the Europe/Middle East region (EMEA). The Airbus team admitted that initially, figuring out how to add the onboard showers to the Emirates A380s was a bit of a challenge, but it has since become so common (Emirates has already taken delivery of 35 A380s, with 55+ more to come) that the process is now routine for the Airbus cabin installation team(s) in Hamburg.
After the A380 cabin assembly, we headed over to an earlier stage of A380 manufacturing, the fuselage component manufacturing hangar. The A380 sections seen here will not be delivered to customers for another 1.5-2 years; with only 25-30 A380s produced each year, the amount of time spent on producing each aircraft is lengthy.
The Hamburg facility is certainly a complex production area; this A380 tail was spotted lying outside the hangar and is absolutely massive.
After we toured the A380 fuselage production floor, we moved over to the main event; one of the A320 family final assembly lines. According to Airbus, for an A320, it takes between 25 and 30 days from the time the aircraft enters final assembly to the time it is delivered to the customer. When we were on the FAL, there was a US Airways aircraft on the floor in final assembly, as well as aircraft destined for Aeroflot and Finnair. There are 4 stages to the FAL, and interestingly, unlike the A380, all of the cabin installation for the A320 built in Hamburg happens there, but also that the cabin installations for the Tolouse A320s happens there. The Hamburg FAL represents really the peak of lean manufacturing for A320 family aircraft, and Airbus used the facility as the model for the FAL in Tianjin and will use it as a model for the FAL in Mobile as that is built. All of the parts for the A320s are brought in by container ship down the Elbe River to the Airbus facility, and all of the materials for the A320 family aircraft destined for Tianjin (and soon Mobile) are consolidated in Hamburg before being shipped off to the respective FALs, a process that takes roughly 6 weeks to both China and the US.
After viewing the factory, we went over to the Airbus canteen for a specially prepared lunch. The lunch was for the media, our liaisons in the American and Airbus corporate communications teams, as well as several American and Airbus employees from the US. Lunch was an elaborate 4 course meal featuring an amouse bouche, salad, a main course, and dessert. There was also an excellent selection of breads to accompany the meal. You can see the menu below:
On the tables for lunch was a beautiful die-cast model of the A319, which almost every journalist and employee at the table tried to discreetly disassemble and hide in his or her bag at some point during the day. Shown here holding up the model is Ian Bradley, who works for American’s corporate communications team out of London.
After lunch, myself and another German journalist were shuttled off for a two on two conversation between ourselves and American CEO Tom Horton as well as American’s Chief Commercial Officer Virasb Vahidi. We only had 6 or 7 minutes to speak with the executives as time was running out before the delivery ceremony at 3 pm.
I asked Tom about the genesis of the order and he said:
It was clear to us at that time, that American needed a major renovation; the renewal of our fleet. And that was really going to help us re-build the new American Airlines.
He also talked about the significance of American ordering both Boeing and Airbus narrow-bodies and why that occurred:
Each Boeing and Airbus brought very attractive deals, and very attractive financing alongside the deals. And, when we looked at them, we decided that given our needs, and given the fact that we could vastly improve the economics of our company and also create some flexibility and opportunity for growth, we decided to take both deals, and that was fairly surprising to both Boeing and Airbus.
To which Virasb added:
So it wasn’t just the renewal of the fleet and growth under the right cost circumstances, but also get access of the neo generation of the Airbus, and of course we worked with Boeing to get them to launch the MAX.
And Tom pointed out that:
And this deal [the American order] was actually the genesis of the Boeing MAX.
Tom then moved on to discuss the role that the order played in the changes at American over the past few years and agreed with our description of the moment as a turning point for American after a challenging decade:
So when we got to this point, summer of 2011, we decided; well we’ve got to change the dynamics of American, and so that was the thinking behind a big airplane deal, at least to restructure the fuel costs and maintenance costs and provide a better customer experience.
He also discussed the role of Chapter 11 bankruptcy re-organization in the industry and for American:
Because the other airlines had gone through bankruptcy and American tried to avoid that, our cost gap became quite wide… so we had to structurally adjust that.
Horton doesn’t believe that American waited too long to enter Chapter 11.
I don’t think so [that we waited too long to enter Ch. 11]. Of course hindsight is 20-20, but for much of the last decade, American had avoided Ch. 11, and the others had done it. And that was viewed as a positive thing.
And interestingly, he said that American tried to the use the order as a galvanizing moment to bargain with its labor teams and stave off bankruptcy.
And we were hoping that that [the deal] might drive a good dynamic for renegotiating the labor contracts. We were unable to succeed on that… ultimately our board made the decision to restructure [via Ch. 11].
Almost as soon as we had finished speaking with them, the two executives dashed off to the main event; the delivery ceremony at the Airbus Delivery Center Jurgen Thomas.
Airbus had quite the elaborate set up inside. There was some very interesting decor, and an awesome food spread that sadly mostly remained un-touched.
Banner commemorating the A319 delivery
The A319 was hidden behind a curtain and after a few minutes of mingling, the ceremony began.
The first comments were from John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer – Customers, who I was excited to hear speak. Mr. Leahy is known to be a very direct and “pithy” speaker, who gives great quotes. And he of course didn’t disappoint.
He started out by describing the order and its significance:
It’s been slightly over two years since we signed this deal and announced it at Dallas-Fort Worth. And that was when American Airlines made history by announcing the largest single order for Airbus aircraft ever in North America.
He also pointed out:
[The American Airlines order] really did put Airbus on the map in Texas, and of course put American Airlines on the map around the world.
Mr. Leahy then moved into a discussion of American’s bankruptcy, and won heavy chuckles from the room when he deadpanned:
In America, it [Chapter 11 bankruptcy] happens to all the great airlines.
He spoke a little bit about the A320 family’s powerful sales:
They [American] have a vision for the way forward. And today is only the beginning. We have of course, 129 more ceos [current engine option A320 family aircraft] to deliver. We also have 130 neos to deliver. Tom, we know you know its a good airplane. But maybe you don’t know quite how good. We’ve sold almost 9,000 of these aircraft.
And he concluded with a pair of powerful one-liners, first saying:
Put that combination together; 130 neos and 130 ceos – American will be unstoppable with its new fleet.
And then he thanked:
The people who two years ago, in Dallas, in 100 degree heat, negotiating a deal that would change aviation history.
Next came remarks by Jean Paul Ebanga, the CEO of CFM who is providing the engines for the new American Airbus fleet.
Mr. Ebanga’s remarks were much more subdued but he as well made a couple of interesting notes. First he discussed the next-generation LEAP engines:
We’ve sold nearly 5,000 LEAP engines and we’re still 3 years away from the entry into service of the first one.
And then he related that CFM parent GE actually delivered its first commercial aircraft engine to American Airlines in the early 1960s.
Following Mr. Ebanga’s remarks, Airbus presented a short video that showed the building of the American A319, some shots of the test flight, and several renderings. Then, American Airlines CEO Tom Horton took the stage for his remarks that provided a bit of color on the deal.
Tom started by describing the event as “an important milestone” in American’s re-generation program.
He talked a little bit again, about the significance of the order:
2 years ago, my colleagues and I wanted to do something big – and I mean really big. And the idea was to put our company back on a flight path to the top of the industry. Of course nothing re-invigorates an airline like new airplanes.
Interestingly, he referred to the whole Airbus and Boeing order together as a 460 frame order, instead of just the 260 at Airbus. I found Tom to be a very different speaker than John Leahy; more folksy versus pithy. He gave some great color and background on the order whereas Leahy was very business-like.
He shared some of the effort that was put in on Airbus’ part to win over American and re-build the relationship. He said of the deal:
The only problem was we had more vision than we had money. So we had to get creative to put it mildly. So enter Barry [Airbus US CEO Barry Eccleston], John [Leahy] and Tom [Airbus parent EADS CEO Tom Enders].
He also described the tenacity shown by the Airbus team:
Once they sensed that the deal was possible, they [the Airbus sales team] locked on and never let go. I like to think that at American we know something about tenacity and competitiveness, but the Airbus guys really showed us something.
And he shared an anecdote to illustrate the lengths to which Airbus was willing to go:
The Texas sun was no match for the competitive fire in the Airbus team; who essentially re-located to Dallas for May through late July of 2011 to get our aircraft deal done. I believe there were more Airbus executives in Dallas than there were in Toulouse or Hamburg that summer, and they were so intent at doing a deal with us that one Saturday morning, frustrated with what they saw as a lack of progress, they endeavored to track me down. It turns out that morning, I was running a road race near my home… and I was impressed to see Barry and John waiting in the 95 degree heat to ambush me at the finish line. Actually I think John was sitting in an air-conditioned Town Car.
That last phrase drew plenty of laughs. And clearly the deal required a significant amount of risk on Airbus’ part given American’s financial state at the time:
To me this deal was a big bet on the future of American Airlines. And Barry, and John, and Tom believed in us. And they used their salesmanship ability to convince their board to take a leap of faith. And I can’t tell you how much that vote of confidence means to American.
Once the prepared remarks concluded, it was time for the presentation of several gifts. This A319 model (one of several) was present and will be delivered to American’s offices in Fort Worth following the ceremony.
The first gift was a complicated metal sculpture depicting an aircraft almost taking off; which was almost dropped by John Leahy as he handed it over to Barry Eccleston who would hand it over to Tom Horton.
Then came the gift from CFM via Jean Paul Ebanga. This was a unique piece of French art; a crystal that would actually be shipped separately to American as it was fragile; the box shown is purely ceremonial.
Finally, EADS (Airbus parent) CEO Tom Enders came up to present a sculpture of a sharklet. The American delivery actually represents the 100th A320 family airplane installed with sharkets and the first such A319. The sharklets reportedly improve fuel burn on the A320 family by an average of 4% for customers in service.
After the presentation of the gifts was completed, Airbus announced formally that the delivery of the American Airlines A319 had commenced and shot confetti into the air while pulling up the curtain and revealing the aircraft.
They then rolled out the celebratory cake; a New York style Cheesecake bracketed by sparklers. This was accompanied by a singer and musician.
The cheescake was not bad for a European impersonation.
Before jumping on to check out the airplane, I pulled aside Virasb Vahidi briefly to ask him about the new product. He responded:
This [the first A319] actually represents the future of what our narrowbody fleet will look like. So this is the first one coming off the line, but all of our future narrowbody aircraft coming – they will all have the all-leather seats, inflight entertainment on every seat, and Wi-Fi and connectivity for passengers. Look inside, there’s 460 aircraft coming like this. It’s the future.
After getting on board, my first stop was in the cockpit to chat with the delivery pilots. I asked them about the new IPADs featured in the new American cockpits and they raved about them, saying:
It’s [The IPAD] really nice. The ease of use, the lighting, being able to see things quickly, being able to flow in and flow out. It’s quite an improvement over the paper charts, especially in the night-time.
On the new technologies front, the American A319s and A321s will also be equipped with Airbus’ Runway Overrun Preventions System (ROPS) technology. Found onboard in the cockpit, this technology “increases pilot’s situational awareness during landing, reduces exposure to runway excursion risk, and if necessary, provides active protection.
I then spent a few moments talking to Jim Thomas, an A319 delivery pilot who had recently re-trained onto the aircraft after flying 737-800s, including many delivery flights, for several years. The process of swtiching over from the 737-800 to the A319s, known as Transition Training, usually takes 5 weeks to complete, and is comprehensive at the Airbus training facility for American at Dallas Fort Worth, where he is based. He relates:
It includes ground school, learning about the aircraft systems, and then simulator training. Its the same training basically, as what a new hire gets. So by the time you’re finished, you’re ready to go fly the airplane. Our simulators are so real that it’s like you’re flying.
I also asked him about the fly by wire system on the A319 versus the conventional system on the 737-800, and he said that the two fly very similarly.
After speaking with Jim, I headed back to check out the aircraft’s interior. The 8 leather first class seats on board the A319 are supplied by Weber and feature 39+ inches of seat pitch. The IFE system includes a vast selection of up to 200 movies, 180 TV programs, 350 audio selections, and 15 games displayed on a 12.1 inch tilting touchscreen monitor in every seat back. Complimentary earbuds will be provided. There will be Wi-Fi and 110v universal AC power outlets at every seat.
The 24 Main Cabin Extra seats offer up to 6 inches of additional legroom and early boarding priviledges to passengers. Personally, I found that the non-exit row Main Cabin Extra seats had more space than Economy Plus seats on United (I’ve never tried Economy Comfort on Delta).
And the 96 Main Cabin seats also feature the new economy class seats with an innovative cradling recline to increase comfort while protecting personal space. I sat in the leather Main Cabin seats and found them quite comfortable. The leg-room was decent as well and the 18 inch seat width was nice as well.
Main Cabin will get an 8..9 inch HD-capable touchscreen with a variety of programming options. The IFEC is being provided via the Thales TopSeason .
And of course I couldn’t leave without getting a goofy shot in the lavatory mirror.
After the event wrapped up, the American Airlines group headed back to one more hangar to check out an American A319 on the FAL, MSN 5753 which will be delivered in August.
All in all, being present for the delivery of the American A319 was a fantastic experience. With that the aircraft left the next day for DFW via Bangor (for a technical stop and to clear customs) as AA flight 9707 as seen in the FlightAware.com track below. The aircraft arrived in DFW on Thursday July 24th at 3:38pm CDT.
Airbus produced video for AA A319 Delivery Event:
Video of Handover Event captured by busybillyb33: