MUNICH —The Airbus A320neo has officially entered into commercial airline service today. The low-key non-event caught almost all passengers of Lufthansa flight LH100 by surprise this morning, when they flew from the airline’s main base in Frankfurt to Munich.
The aircraft, now wearing its permanent registration (D-AINA / MSN 6801) was handed over and delivered last week on short notice, from the Airbus factory in Hamburg-Finkenwerder. Originally, Qatar Airways was set to become the world’s first operator, but given the minor early operational shortcomings of the new Pratt & Whitney PW1100G Geared Turbo Fan engines, the airline opted to swap places with Lufthansa.
Lufthansa stepped in as the launch operator despite the engine issues, as it has its own maintenance division, Lufthansa Technik, close by in Hamburg, which is able to support and maintain the engine while the aircraft is in service.
The delivery to Lufthansa was planned to take place on December 22, then pushed a week later and finally to January. The cause of the delay in the handover was attributed to issues discovered during the acceptance flight, and that had to be addressed by Airbus.
A Wagnerian Entry Intro Service
The delivery finally took place on January 20, with the first flight scheduled on Sunday January 24 from Frankfurt to Hamburg. However, this Wagnerian Handlung took another twist and, again, it was postponed on short notice. This time the cause was attributed to a “valve problem” in one engine, according to a Lufthansa spokeswoman.
Everything about the aircraft that is supposedly to be the new bread-and-butter plane of Airbus and many airlines in the decades to come was low-key. Even on the outside it’s just ordinarily announced as “Airbus A320-200,” without any signaling that the aircraft is a NEO, and particularly, the first one in service.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the size of its engines, which in the case of the PW1100G measure 81 inches (2.06 meters) in fan diameter versus just 56.7 inches (1.44 meters) in the A320ceo (current engine option) powerplants.
With almost 6,900 A320s built since 1986, and with a bursting order book with further nearly 4,500 orders from around 80 customers for the A320neo family aircraft, you could expect a major event to highlight its commercial premiére, as it is quite significant for the airline, the manufacturer and the traveling public. However, nothing of this was showing today at Frankfurt, with no ceremony, no signage or speeches acknowledging the event.
A tighter déjà vu
Boarding Lufthansa’s A320 is a déjà vu at first, as nothing out of the ordinary meets the eye, and the cabin boasts the same Recaro slim line seats as the rest of the carrier’s narrowbody fleet. The sole difference are the two additional seat rows with six seats each, taking the passenger number in this A320neo to 180. It’s clear that the German carrier is copying the high-density passenger cabins from low-cost carriers (LCC), while still maintaining some full-service carrier services. In the case of Lufthansa, it still serves free soft drinks and a small snack to Economy Class passengers, even to those who paid the lowest fare, and seat-wise, Lufthansa still offers a slight recline and leather seats.
Now onboard, a brief Captain announcement over the PA commented that this was the first A320neo commercial flight. This was going to be the sole reference to this prémiere during the flight.
Lufthansa claims that the new cabin seating configuration was achieved by rearranging the toilets and galleys, without taking space from the seat pitch. On a Lufthansa A320ceo, there are 11.8 inches (30cm) of space between the back of the seat in front and the edge of the next seat. The space to sit on, measured from the edge to the beginning of the backrest, is 16.92 inches (43 cm).
The author compared this to the economy seats in the A320neo: the foot-and-leg space measures just 11.22 inches (28.5 cm), and the seat itself offers only 16.1 inches (41 cm). The official seat pitch in Lufthansa’s A320neo Economy cabin is 29.1 inches (74 cm).
But in all fairness it has to be said that for the author, measuring 5 feet, 10 inches (1.88m) tall, and often flying LCCs, the space is adequate for a short flight, such as our 35-minute flight today. Subjectively, it felt more comfortable than seating on easyJet.
In Business Class there is a big difference: In the first six rows of the A320neo, there is a guaranteed free middle seat for Business Class travelers, and there, the leg space measures a lofty 14.17 inches (36 cm), while the seat itself from edge to back offers 16.53 cm (42 cm) of space. Officially the seat pitch in Business is 31.8 inches (81 cm).
At the back of the aircraft, the last seat row has no windows. And now, there is only one lavatory, which was squeezed in front of the rear bulkhead wall, taking half of the fuselage diameter, with the other half taken by a now much smaller galley.
While the A320neo was noticeable quieter on takeoff when compared to its predecessors, the author noticed when seated in row 23, just behind the wings, that it was fairly noisy, and vibrations could be felt. The captain of the flight commented later: “We didn’t want to be delayed right on the first flight, so we flew faster than normal, that’s what caused the extra noise.”
This first aircraft will mostly fly from Frankfurt to both Munich and Hamburg, where Lufthansa has two larger maintenance shops, just in case that their action is needed. Once the PW1100G engine issue is finally solved, it will begin to serve all intra European destinations.
We will have to wait for the official delivery and handover ceremony, now expected to take place with the second A320neo, and expected to take place on February 12 at Airbus Hamburg-Finkenwerder factory.