With the A350 on track and improving on the A320neo, Airbus now tries to push a more efficient A380.
TOULOUSE – The Airbus A350-1000 test aircraft lifts off the runway in Toulouse easily after using only about half its length, and steeply turns left.
Obviously, Airbus test pilots were putting their test aircraft through the paces on this summer morning, giving us a glimpse into what aviation professionals and enthusiasts alike can expect to see in little over a week from now during flight displays at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget.
To share the manufacturers latest news and show off its confidence ahead of the world’s most important trade event, Airbus invited the international press to Toulouse on Friday.
“Our priority in 2017 is our production ramp-up with a backlog of over 6,700 aircraft,” said Fabrice Brégier, Airbus COO, and President Commercial Aircraft.
This is particularly important for the A320 family after the A320neo experienced many problems, mostly due to its P&W Geared Turbofan engines.
Currently, there are 116 A320neos and A321neos in service with 25 operators. “With the A320 and A320neo, we had some difficulty to do it as fast, but our output in these programs will almost triple in 2017 with 200 or more deliveries being quite achievable,” Brégier said.
Compared to other recent aircraft programs, the A350 seems to perform quite well. Airbus is particularly pleased with the technical reliability of the A350, which so far has increased from 97.2% in 2015 to 98.8% in 2017, with the target being 99% at the end of the year.
“We are a bit ahead of target here. The A350 enjoys one of the highest reliabilities and early maturity compared to our previous programs and those of our competitors,” boasts Brégier.
Currently, there are 84 A350s in operation with twelve airlines, and a production rate of ten a month is the target for the end of 2018. According to Brégier, the test program of the A350-1000 is on track to be concluded as planned by the end of the summer; one of three test aircraft will be displayed at Le Bourget, alongside an A321neo, one of two prototypes.
The A330neo, with its planned first flight this summer, is also “on good track, while we are waiting for the engines from Rolls Royce, which are a bit late,” states the Airbus COO.
Given that the A380 has not sold a new aircraft for one and a half years since the order of three by ANA in January 2016, the manufacturer was promoting its biggest aircraft heavily during the Media Day in Toulouse.
Officially the order book stands at 317, with 213 delivered so far; but some of the backlog is in doubt. For example, Qantas (20 still in the order book) or Virgin Atlantic (6) have stated they don’t want them.
Airbus will do a “sustainable ramp-down” of production to one aircraft a month, “or a little less” if no new customers can be found. There are rumors Emirates might order a further 20 A380s in Le Bourget, with an Airbus spokesman stating “we might even bring an A380 to Le Bourget if there are news.”
Since this week’s Qatar crisis and given Emirates’ recent bad financial performance, this might be in more doubt than recently.
In Toulouse, Fabrice stated clearly: “Currently, we will not launch an A380neo as there is no business case, but there is still a lot we can do to improve it, like more efficient engines and new winglets.”
According to Airbus EVP Programs Didier Evrard, these winglets could be up to 5 meters in length each.
“The current A380 wingtip fence devices were conceived in a different era when there wasn’t the right material and enough research to do bigger winglets,” Evrard tells Airways.
Adding innovation to the A380 on a level below launching an A380neo, is supposed to finally convince new customers to sign on.
“We still have some sales campaigns going, and we are now offering the A380 with more seats,” explains Fabrice Brégier.
In fact, Airbus’ official seat count of the A380 is now 575 in four classes, compared to just 525 in three classes when it was launched. Airbus has installed a new cabin layout mock-up in Toulouse already, and demonstrated, on a quick-change cabin model during the Media Day, how the changes of the cabin configuration are implemented.
Most importantly, the two formerly fairly grand staircases of the A380 cabin are shrinking remarkably. There is no longer a wide staircase at the front of the cabin, the former being replaced by a very narrow, two-part stairway in the first third of the cabin.
Its lower part, just open to the crew, leads below the main deck to the new crew rest area, which includes a separate bunk for pilots, entered through an internal door.
Instead of the current spiral staircase in the back, there is now the same kind of narrow installation as up front also in the back.
“As the A380 operation is mature now, in almost all airports it serves on a scheduled basis there is direct upper deck boarding for passengers seated there, so there is limited traffic between decks on the aircraft these days, with airlines cordoning off the premium classes from Economy passengers anyway,” says an Airbus cabin marketing expert while demonstrating the changes proposed.
Altogether, by ordering this revamped cabin layout, there are 80 revenue seats to be gained; even two in Business Class if it occupies the front of the upper deck.
Where Emirates puts its A380 showers today, tthere’s would be galleys freeing up further cabin space. In addition, the removal of the side storage bins on the upper deck would gain six additional seats.
Airbus experts hinted that while this new layout could be also retrofitted, it might not be viable to change cabins as massively on an existing aircraft even though some of the efficiency measures could be implemented fairly easily.
“The A380 will have a bright future,” insists Airbus’ Chief Salesman, John Leahy. “We are in a soft spot right now, so we have to wait.”
This might be a task that his successor Kieran Rao will inherit from Leahy when he takes over later this year.
During the Media Day, John Leahy presented the manufacturer’s new Global Market Forecast for the period 2017-2037. It states that aviation will grow even quicker than previously predicted, at 4.4% a year on a global average.
This translates into a need for some 34,170 new passenger aircraft during this period. While there were 18,890 commercial aircraft in service in 2016, Airbus expects to see 40,120 jets in 20 years time.
A remarkable role in this growth story falls to LCCs worldwide, due to the exponentially growing middle class in emerging countries.
“LCCs can get to 50% of traffic worldwide, maybe even more,” predicts Leahy.
One trend is obvious: the one towards bigger aircraft. While in 2010, only 13% of A320 family deliveries were for the A321, this figure increased to 41% last year. Of all the new orders for the family, Leahy expects to see 61% signed for the A321 this year.
Most likely, not all of the predicted deliveries in the next two decades will be for conventional jets. Airbus Group CEO, Tom Enders, envisages a 100-seater hybrid aircraft, with electrical propulsion, to be flying at least as a testbed already in 15 years time, he told reporters in Toulouse.