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Delivering power

Stephanie Taylor provides an update on the A320neo programme, exploring how both Pratt & Whitney and CFM International’s engines have affected the aircraft’s operations
 

The A320neo is by far the star of the A320neo family of aircraft. At the time of writing, the type has received 3,677 orders since its launch in 2010, compared to 1,481 orders for the A321neo, and a mere 51 orders for the A319neo.


Testament to the aircraft type is the sheer scale of the A320neo orders placed. Having previously committed to 427 A320neo family aircraft, Indigo Partners doubled its order at the Dubai Airshow 2017 in November, signing a contract for an additional 430 A320neo family aircraft. This marks Airbus’ largest ever jetliner acquisition.


Of the 430, 273 will be A320neo aircraft, which will be divided amongst the airlines owned by Indigo Partners. Wizz Air is set to take 72 A320neos, Frontier Airlines to take 100, JetSMART to take 56 and Volaris to take 46. Engine selections are due to be made at a later date.


However, Indigo Partners is not the only company that recognises the potential of the A320neo in the low cost carrier (LCC) market. AirAsia has ordered 304 of the type (13 have been delivered); GoAir has ordered 144 (8 have been delivered); Lion Air has ordered 113; easyJet has ordered 100 (2 have been delivered), Norwegian has ordered 67; and the list goes on.


CFM argues that utilisation and flexibility are the primary reasons LCCs value the aircraft type. Jacques Chausse, LEAP Program Director, Airbus Programs, comments, “They have found it is so reliable – they have much more scheduling flexibility. They can interchange a ceo [current engine option] with a neo or vice-versa to fit route requirements with no issues. In fact, they are flying the LEAP-powered A320neo aircraft 10+ hours per day.” This utilisation rate is higher than the average across the whole operational A320neo fleet, which Airbus spokesperson Martin Fendt claims stands at close to nine hours per day.


“Right now, the LEAP-1A is maintaining a fleet-wide days’ flown ratio of 96%,” Chausse continues. “That translates to the fleet flying 29 days out of every month. The days they don’t fly could be caused by things totally unrelated to the engines – customer aircraft down days for interior modifications, training, etc., are part of this count.” According to Chausse, CFM’s LEAP-1A is fast approaching its one-million-hour milestone.


WOW air currently operates one CFM-powered A320neo leased from Air Lease Corporation on its routes from Reykjavik to destinations in Scandinavia (such as Stockholm and Copenhagen), as well as to Tel Aviv and Pittsburgh, PA. Daniel Snaebjornsson, the carrier’s Vice President Network and Planning, says the introduction of two further A320neos to its fleet by the beginning of 2019 will allow it to expand further into North America with a focus on smaller cities and to “better match capacity with demand, by using an A321neo during peak summer and an A320neo during the winter.”


Fuel efficiency and dispatch reliability are also defining characteristics of the aircraft type. “Our A320neo consumes 15% less fuel per seat versus our A320ceos,” Snaebjornsson reveals, confirming Airbus is delivering on its promise to deliver at least this much in terms of fuel savings. The OEM aims to up this to 20% by 2020 through cabin innovations and further engine efficiency improvements, and is investing over €300 million in innovation each year to help meet this target.


Snaebjornsson says the aircraft is also performing very well with regards to dispatch reliability – with Fendt stating it currently stands close to that of the A320ceo, at 99.6% across 230,000 flight hours within 128,000+ flights conducted with both engine types (the LEAP-1A from CFM and the PW1100G-JM from Pratt & Whitney).

 

With such high demand even in just the LCC arena, there needs to be a delivery schedule to match, and this is where Airbus is leaving customers wanting. In its summary up to 31 October 2017, Airbus logged the delivery of 90 A320neo aircraft, which accounts for nearly 23% of the OEM’s total 399 single-aisle aircraft deliveries during the first nine months of the year. However, when these numbers were revealed, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus, Tom Enders, stated, “This year’s delivery schedule is extremely back-loaded, largely due to the well-known engine problems plaguing our A320neo family.”


The A320 family’s four final assembly lines in Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; Tianjin, China; and Mobile, AL; are currently producing 50 aircraft per month and hope to reach a rate of 60 per month by mid-2019. The Final Assembly Line Asia (FALA), which was the result of a joint venture involving Airbus with a Chinese consortium comprising the Tianjin Free-Trade Zone and Aviation Industry Corporation of China, delivered the first Chinese-made Airbus A320neo to AirAsia on 25 October 2017. FALA is currently producing four A320 family aircraft per month. „


However, a supply issue with the fan blades for the PW1100G-JM engine was one of the factors slowing down deliveries. A spokesperson from Pratt & Whitney (P&W) says, “P&W developed a new hybrid metallic fan blade for the geared turbofan engine (GTF). The fan blade performance has been right on target. It is lightweight and is the most efficient fan blade in its thrust size.


“We did have early challenges with yield that impacted deliveries that were not design-related, and they have been addressed. Fan blades are no longer pacing engine deliveries as we’ve tripled our production output through automation and are opening two more production facilities. We now have two facilities in Lansing, Michigan, and one with our partner IHI in Japan. The 16% fuel reduction of the GTF is in large part due to the GTF ultra-high bypass ratio and the high level of fan efficiency. >>


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