Get ready for the new generation

Announcements in the past few days that Airbus has won EASA and FAA type certification for the A320neo with PW1100G-JM engines and that Bombardier has completed all certification flight-testing for the new CS100 (also powered by PW1000G-family geared turbofans) mean a new generation of single-aisle jets is now just weeks away from entering service.

By November 17, when Bombardier announced it had completed CS100 certification flight-testing, the Canadian manufacturer was finalising its submission of the remaining documentation needed for Transport Canada – the Canadian airworthiness certification authority – to review and approve type certification for the CS100.

This major milestone will clear the CS100 to enter commercial service and it will surely occur before the end of the year, in line with Bombardier’s last revised estimate of the CS100’s certification date.

The CS100 won’t enter commercial service with launch customer Swiss International Air Lines until the end of May, according to the latest reports from Swiss aviation media sources, but that will be the airline’s own choice. Bombardier clearly would be to deliver the first production CS100 to Swiss International immediately after certification, if the airline wished.

The actual planned delivery date of the first production CS100 to Swiss International is likely to be some weeks earlier than late May. Thorough in its efficiency as always, Swiss International will take several weeks to familiarise its flight crews, cabin crews, maintenance mechanics and ground staff with the CS100 before putting the new aircraft into service, so that its CS100 operation runs like Swiss clockwork from day one.

However, ever since Bombardier confirmed on May 7 that Swiss International Air Lines would be the first CS100 operator, the manufacturer hasn’t taken any chances that the CS100 won’t be highly reliable right from its first commercial flight.

On November 7, Bombardier began an intensive route-proving programme with a CS100 fully kitted out in airline configuration. The CS100 is operating an airline-like schedule of flights with the aircraft, initially among 15 city pairs in Canada and 20 in the USA before moving on to Europe. Probably, many of the route-proving flights it operates in Europe during the exercise will be on routes Swiss International actually flies every day.

Airbus, meanwhile, has incurred no delays of any significance in the type-certification programme for the A320neo/PW1100G-JM combination. Although a flight-test A320neo with PW geared-turbofans was grounded for several weeks in August because of a manufacturing defect in a combustor in one of its engines, losing Airbus about 150 hours of planned flight-test time with the aircraft, Airbus was able to take up the certification-flying slack with the first CFM LEAP-1A-powered A320neo. Little if any A320neo certification flying time was lost overall.

The fact the A320neo is a re-engined derivative of the proven existing A320 design means the A320neo requires far less flight-testing time to obtain type certification than an all-new aircraft like the CS100 and its bigger sibling the CS300 – which is scheduled for certification and first delivery to launch customer airBaltic in the second half of 2016.

Now Airbus has joint EASA and FAA certification for the A320neo/PW1100G-JM combination, it is preparing to deliver the first production A320neo before the end of 2015 to launch customer Qatar Airways.

Early in the new year, hard on the heels of Qatar Airways, Lufthansa will become the second customer to receive a new A320neo. (In 2016 Lufthansa Group, in the form of subsidiaries Lufthansa and Swiss International, will rapidly become the world’s most experienced operator of PW1000G geared-turbofan engines.)

Airbus then expects to certificate the A320neo/LEAP-1A combination “in the coming months”, with A321neo and A319neo certification following that.

Significantly, the performance results Airbus and Bombardier have announced from flight-testing indicate the A320neo and the C Series family will be world-beaters.

Airbus promises the A320neo will be more than 15 per cent more fuel-efficient than the existing A320 from the outset and that by 2020 the company’s continuous improvement of the A320neo will increase the fuel-efficiency gap to more than 20 per cent.

The new model will also offer 500 miles more range, 5 per cent lower maintenance costs and lower noise levels than the current A320. Additionally, it will hold up to 20 more passengers “without compromising comfort”, according to Airbus, as a result of the manufacturer’s new “Cabin Flex” interior re-work.

Although Bombardier didn’t sell many C Series jets at this year’s Paris Air Show, it did drop a news bombshell which in the longer term may well prove far more beneficial for the programme. Rarely if ever has a manufacturer been able to announce that the performance of a new commercial aircraft has proved significantly better in flight-testing than was predicted from computer and wind-tunnel tests, but that’s exactly what Bombardier did.

Both the CS100 and the CS300 have 350 nautical miles more range than originally expected, giving them reasonable transatlantic range; and their payload and airfield performance are better than originally forecast.

Vitally, they deliver more than a 20 per cent fuel burn advantage compared to in-production aircraft; and fuel burn more than 10 per cent better than re-engined aircraft such as the 737 MAX and A320neo families, according to Bombardier.

Bombardier always expected the C Series jets to be extremely quiet – something the world learned when the CS100 took off on its first test flight without many spectators actually noticing – but flight-testing has confirmed the CS100 will be the quietest aircraft in its class.

Although legacy A320-family, E-Jet family and 737NG aircraft are still selling well, the performance levels the A320neo and CS100/CS300 (and the 737 MAX) will offer when they enter service will inevitably make today’s single-aisle aircraft economically uncompetitive at some point. The big question is, how deeply and how quickly will the new jets make today’s single-aircraft completely obsolete?

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