TOULOUSE – When you talk about the future of aviation it is easy to get lost in the idea of complex and integrated designs as to what the future of air travel will look like.
Constant aircraft demand around the world has seen many companies, such as Boeing and Airbus, look to develop new technologies and production methods to meet this demand.
And with every market having different requirements, the challenge has never been greater.
Airbus is taking this topic head-on, with the company hosting a 2-day innovation event, where its management discussed the demands the company is facing, and what they plan to do as they move into the future.
Airbus says the world market us “looking very healthy.” Strong growth continues to show not only in China but also in India and Africa. These are countries and continents that have seen major growth in the last two years, with further and vast growth still expected to come in the future.
The manufacturer is placing itself in a strong place to help meet this market demand, looking to increase the production of its best-seller, the A320 Family of aircraft up to 63 aircraft a month.
Airbus will also ramp up the production of its Canadian-made A220, with a second line opening up in Mobile, Alabama.
“We currently have a number of sales campaigns in markets open to the A220 – as it is unfortunately not certified in China yet and we are constrained in the US market,” Christian Scherer, Airbus COO said.
The European planemaker purchased the CSeries program from Bombardier, looking to absorb a clean-sheet, purpose-built aircraft to somewhat take control of the lower segment of the market.
The A320 Family program, according to Airbus, has been tremendously successful. However, with the new A220-100 and -300 variants, fewer customers seem to be gaining interests on the smaller A318 and A319 variants.
Airbus claims that they will continue producing the two types as long as customers continue ordering them.
As far as narrowbody/long-range is concerned, the manufacturer’s CEO, Guillaume Faury called the A321LR “the longest range single-aisle aircraft, for the moment.” It could be inferred that a longer-range variant is being considered for the future.
Airbus was not able to escape from the inevitable Boeing 737 MAX questioning. “After the MAX situation, the FAA will probably become stricter and will double and triple check on us even more,” said Michael Schöllhorn, Airbus COO.
Christian Scherer added, “I’m afraid that the flying public might in parts lose confidence in our industry due to authority’s certification issues around the 737 MAX.”
Something that’s not usually subject of public opinion is the planemakers’ production methods. Today, Airbus focused heavily on its plans to change the way their staff works. The manufacturer showed off numerous improvements on automated systems which allows its staff to work in a safer and faster fashion.
The process, according to Airbus, is focused on “light automation.” Workers will be equipped with exoskeletons—which would reduce the strain on their back—as well as smart glasses, which allow the engineer to see vital information as they carry on with their tasks.
Airbus pointed out that automated riveting machines and drilling robots are going to be used, not to replace the human operator, but to allow them to work on the more complex tasks which will require more focus and attention to detail.
The manufacturer did not disclose whether these automated methods will ramp-up the production speed on any of its assembly lines, but it did mention that it will make the lives of its workers much easier.
The New ‘Flagship’
One of the announcements by Airbus during this event, which may not be surprising to some, was the confirmation that the A350-1000 is now the “company’s flagship aircraft.”
Airbus said that this will be the biggest aircraft they will offer to its customers.
The A350 will be the only ultra-long-range (ULR) plane they will be making for the future, and according to Scherer, the plane can “very comfortably go to ten-abreast seating for long-range flying,” obviously raising awareness in the long-haul, low-cost arena.
French Bee and Evelop are the two only carriers operating ten-abreast seating in economy class, at present, while all legacy carriers adopted the customary 3-3-3 layout.
The A350XWB program has been a massive success for Airbus, with the A350XLR offering the airline the ability to fly from deep in Asia all the way to the U.S with 45 tonnes less weight, which not only allows for savings for the operators but also allows the aircraft to provide a cleaner CO2 footprint as it flies.
Regarding the much expected Project Sunrise, which has Australian flag carrier, Qantas, demanding a plane that would allow them to fly nonstop between Sydney and London, Scherer confirmed that Airbus has offered the A350 “with additional capabilities” to the airline.
And touting the competition, sales chief Christian Scherer called the Boeing 777-X a “re-engined Hummer.”
Airbus confirmed that the production rate of the Airbus A350 will be kept at 10 planes per month.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s round-up of the Airbus Innovation Days in Toulouse.