MIAMI – European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is preparing to mark a new milestone with a lightweight pair of wings made of composite materials.

Airbus decided to increase the total performance of its A320 family ten years ago. It prioritized fuel economy and launched the A320 NEO, which featured more fuel-efficient engines. As a result, absolute confidence in the already profitable airliner skyrockets. The new lightweight wings follow Airbus’ performance-boosting initiative.

Sharklets. Photo: Air Lease

New Wings

Airbus intends to develop an innovative composite wing, according to Sue Partridge, who heads the company’s upcoming wing project. According to Bloomberg, Airbus will introduce a wing that is both commercially competitive and has high production potential. The company will begin building the first demonstrator in the coming weeks.

According to Bloomberg, Airbus will most likely use the lightweight wing on its upgraded A320, allowing the airplane-maker to extract more value from the well-known single-aisle jet. This would be advantageous for Airbus as it is a response to Boeing if it were to move with a clean sheet aircraft design.

“The most immediate application would be if they decide to do a final stretch of the A320neo family,” said Agency Partners analyst Sash Tusa. “They’ve cleaned up the wing an awful lot but they’ve never done a proper re-winging of that aircraft.”

According to an Airbus spokesman, the company is constantly working to improve its product series. As a result, it has ongoing global conversations with customers regarding their demands for improved products. “There is a lot of research, but not all…gets published,” said the spokesperson.

The jetBlue Airbus A320 “Sharklet” seen at the unveiling at New York JFK on February 21, 2013. Photo: JetBlue

A Challenging Development

Wings are one of the most technically challenging components of an aircraft. However, transforming a metal wing to a completely composite one requires just a portion of the cost of developing an entirely new aircraft. As a result, operators stand to benefit significantly.

The A320 wing construction has remained nearly unchanged since the type launched in the late 1980s. Nonetheless, Airbus has strengthened the wing structure over the years by incorporating several modifications. These are technically classified as classic, retro, and modified wing types.

Airbus pioneered the use of wingtip fences. Later, the manufacturer launched Sharklets, which were designed especially for the A320neo family. Both the wingtip and the sharklet contribute to greatly reducing aerodynamic drag.

According to Tusa, the A320 modernization along with using advanced engines would cost more than US$4.9bn. This is considerably less than the cost of building a completely new aircraft, which could US$15-20bn.

To increase aerodynamic performance and fuel economy, the new wings will be longer and narrower. Extending the wingspan can require applying folding tips so the airplane can pass current airport gates. Additionally, Partridge said in an interview that bringing this innovative wing to market would require elevated automation and new manufacturing methods to facilitate and smooth production.

Airbus will complete its innovative wing in 2023. Its next move will be to prepare for the actual product launch. According to Partridge, the product timetable is dependent on the scope of the new aircraft design.

Airbus 320-100 F-WWAI First A320 ever built – Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

Breathing Window

The Boeing 737 MAX grounding gave Airbus a reasonable opportunity to overtake Boeing in the crucial single-aisle business segment. As such, making the latest wing technology gives Airbus enough chance to sort out how to deal with its competitor’s future airliner.

According to Tusa, a stretched version of the A321 has enough space for additional four rows of seats. Therefore, 24 additional economy seats can be arranged. Besides, modifying the cabin to a 2-class, including business and economy, would seem more reachable.

Performance-wise, a redesigned composite wing could also boost aircraft range and endurance. In addition, the new configuration provides enough space for repositioning landing gears and installing more fuel-efficient engines.

Airbus has learned a lot from the smaller A220, purchased from Bombardier. The type is the only modern narrow-body with a composite wing. Airbus designers collaborated with Spirit AeroSystems in Northern Ireland, which manufactures the A220’s wing.

Airbus A320neo with Sharklet. Photo: Airbus

Next Generation, Hydrogen Aircraft

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has hypothesized that his company may begin production of a new airplane within two years. Moreover, Rolls-Royce Holdings, the famous UK engine maker, has become the first leading producer to reveal its interest in the program this month.

Aside from reacting to any Boeing impulses, Airbus thinks that the new wing will play a pivotal role in the development of the now well-known proposed hydrogen jetliner.

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury accentuated the significance of such technologies in accomplishing a phase shift in the competitive business of narrow-body airliners. “We think the next new platform will be significantly better than what we do today,” he told Bloomberg on April 29. “We’re really focused on accelerating the path to de-carbonization and to the propulsion system of the future.”

Featured image: