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Airbus Commercial Aircraft: positioned for the future (2017)

Among the delivery highlights in 2017 was the handover of the first-ever A321neo, provided to U.S.-based airline Virgin America from the Airbus final assembly facility in Hamburg, Germany.

2017 marked new achievements and key milestones for Airbus’ family of single-aisle and widebody aircraft. 

Widebody jetliner achievements included delivery of the 100th A350 XWB – an A350-900 variant; along with the continued and successful testing of the longer-fuselage A350-1000 in advance of its entry into service. 

For the single-aisle product line, the A319neo new engine version made its maiden flight equipped with CFM International LEAP-1A engines; the first-ever A321neo was provided to an operator; and a U.S.-produced A321 became the 1,500th Airbus commercial aircraft in North American service.

THE A350 XWB: A MILESTONE DELIVERY AND NEW OPERATORS

The 100th A350 XWB delivered by Airbus is an A350-900 version received by China Airlines.

Showcasing the fastest widebody production ramp-up in Airbus’ history, the 100th A350 XWB was delivered in July, some 30 months after deliveries began with this latest member in the company’s widebody product line. The milestone aircraft, an A350-900 variant, was provided to Taiwan-based China Airlines where it joined the long-time Airbus customer’s growing A350 XWB fleet – adding to their line-up of widebody A330s and A340s. The airline uses the A350-900 on both regional and long-haul services – including the Taipei-San Francisco route. 

With the delivery of an A350-900 in September, Hong Kong Airlines became the 15th operator of the world’s most efficient twin-aisle airliner. Hong Kong Airlines is acquiring 21 A350 XWB aircraft, a mixture of 15 purchased directly from Airbus and six on lease from third party lessors. 

Keeping up the programme pace, Asiana Airlines of South Korea received its initial A350-900 in April, while Air Caraïbes began its A350 XWB fleet an A350-900 version for use on this carrier’s routes between Paris and the French Caribbean, operated alongside the A330s already in service. In the U.S., United Airlines updated its A350 XWB order to 45 of the A350-900 variant.

Preparing the A350-1000 for entry into service

An A350-1000 makes one of several test runs through a purposely-inundated surface performed to demonstrate the aircraft’s robustness and secure its maturity from entry into service.

A wide range of tests continue to be performed on the A350-1000 in advance of its targeted entry into service in the second half of 2017. The most recent test of the stretched-fuselage version of Airbus’ A350 XWB Family aircraft was an Early Long Flight performed in May. Taking off and landing from Airbus’ Toulouse, France headquarters location, the 12-hour trip was operated as closely as possible to a typical airline flight, from catering before take-off to onboard service courtesy of a Virgin Atlantic Airways cabin crew.

Previous tests include: water trough testing performed at Istres Air Force Base in southern France in which the aircraft was purposely run along an inundated surface to demonstrate its robustness; fuel system and engine tests in Cardiff, Wales; external noise measurement tests in Moron, Spain; a “high and warm” flight test campaign in Latin America; and cold weather testing under the extreme conditions found in Iqaluit, Canada.

Designed for upsized efficiency, the A350-1000 variant is seven metres longer than the A350-900 version, which began airline service in 2015. With its stretched fuselage, the A350-1000 accommodates 40-plus more seats in a typical three-class configuration. It features a modified wing trailing-edge, new six-wheel main landing gears and more powerful Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines. 

Major achievements for Airbus’ A320 family

Canada’s Air Transat will become the first operator of Airbus’ A321LR – the long-range version of the single-aisle A321neo jetliner.

In March, Airbus performed the first flight of the A320 Family’s shortest-fuselage member in the NEO configuration, the A319neo, equipped with CFM International LEAP-1A engines (one of the two powerplants available for the NEO jetliners). 

April saw the handover of the first-ever A321neo – the longest-fuselage member of the A320 Family – to Virgin America during a ceremony in Hamburg, Germany; this U.S.-based airline received the version equipped with CFM International’s LEAP-1A engines. Cathay Pacific Airways, meanwhile, finalised an order for 32 A321neo aircraft. 

Taking delivery of its first A321neo, Japan’s All Nippon Airways became the launch operator of the aircraft’s version powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM geared turbofan engines. 

Canadian airline Air Transat announced in July that it would become the first North American operator of the long-range version of the A321, denoted A321LR, starting in early 2019 with 10 aircraft leased from AerCap. The A321LR builds on the A321neo’s continued success, having captured over 80% of the market share with more than 1,400 orders to date. The LR option extends the aircraft’s range to a maximum of 4,000 nautical miles and brings with it a 30% reduction in operating cost compared to its nearest competitor.

Airbus A320 production and North America

An A321 delivered to American Airlines became the 1,500th Airbus commercial aircraft in North American service; it was built at the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.

With the third-quarter 2017 delivery of an A321 to American Airlines – the world’s largest operator of Airbus passenger aircraft – there were a record 1,500 in-service Airbus commercial aircraft in North America. 

This milestone jetliner was produced at the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility in Mobile, Alabama – which is one of four production centres worldwide for Airbus single-aisle aircraft (joining Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Tianjin, China). 

Located on the U.S. Gulf Coast, the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing Facility is able to build three members of the A320 Family: the A319, A320 and A321. 

Tianjin: home to Airbus’ first widebody centre outside Europe

Tianjin Airlines received the first A330 jetliner handed over to a customer from Airbus’ new A330 Completion and Delivery Centre at Tianjin, China.

Airbus inaugurated its A330 Completion and Delivery Centre, or C&DC, in Tianjin, China in September – the first widebody centre outside of Europe.

Located at the same site as the Tianjin A320 Family Final Assembly Line and the Airbus Tianjin Delivery Centre, the C&DC was created to process twin-engine A330s, performing aircraft completion activities including cabin installation, aircraft painting and production flight test, as well as customer flight acceptance and aircraft delivery. 

The Airbus A330 is the most popular widebody aircraft in China and was flown by nine airlines in the country as of September. Coinciding with the CD&C’s formal opening, the first A330 to be delivered from the facility, an A330-200 version, was handed over to Tianjin Airlines.

IranAir’s fleet modernisation begins with Airbus

Initial delivery activity in 2017 included the handover of IranAir’s first new aircraft, a single-aisle A321, which occurred at Airbus’ Toulouse, France industrial facility during January.  

It was the first delivery from a firm order placed by IranAir in December 2016 for 100 Airbus aircraft (46 single-aisle and 54 widebody jetliners) to renew and expand its fleet. 

Iran is forecast to require some 400-500 new aircraft to modernise and to grow its existing passenger fleet, meeting demand on domestic as well as international routes. 

A “dynamic” business atmosphere at the Paris Air Show

Fabrice Brégier, Airbus Chief Operating Officer and President of Airbus Commercial Aircraft, provided a summary of company sales announced during the Paris Air Show. He was joined by John Leahy, Chief Operating Officer of Commercial Customers.

Airbus’ market-leading product line received a strong endorsement during the Paris Air Show in June, with the company securing $39.7 billion of new orders – composed of firm bookings for 144 aircraft valued at $18.5 billion in catalogue prices, and Memoranda of Understanding for an additional 182 aircraft worth $21.2 billion. With these transactions, Airbus’ backlog increased to a new industry record of more than 6,800 aircraft. 

In addition, Airbus underscored its commitment to the continuous evolution of the company's jetliner product line with improvements for airline operators and the passengers they fly. 

A developmental study for an enhanced A380 with even better economics and improved operational performance was unveiled at the biennial industry event, where Airbus also announced the extension of its “Airspace” cabin brand to the A320 Family.

Growing horizons

In June, Airbus put a spotlight on aviation's future with the release of its latest Global Market Forecast (GMF), which projects a worldwide need for some 35,000 new passenger aircraft between 2017 and 2034. 

This forecast – which serves as a reference for airlines, airports, investors, governments, non-government agencies and others – factors in such key market drivers as: demographics, trade, tourism flows, oil prices, environmental issues and competition. 

Also included in the 2017-2034 Global Market Forecast are results from Airbus' "Global Services Forecast." Among its projections is a global maintenance, repair & overhaul (MRO) market with a cumulative value of more than US$1.85 trillion during the next 20 years.

LAMINAR FLOW RESEARCH TAKES FLIGHT

The A340 testbed aircraft takes off on its maiden flight with wing modifications for Europe’s BLADE laminar flow research programme.

In September, Airbus initiated the latest research for further reducing the fuel consumption of airliners to keep the company and Europe at the forefront of enhancing air transportation’s ecological footprint. 

This research uses the Airbus A340 Flight Lab testbed aircraft, with its outer wing sections designed for highly smooth airflow over their surfaces. Known as natural laminar flow, such smoothed passage of air creates less drag than the airflow on traditional wings, potentially reducing fuel burn by as much 4.6 per cent on an 800-nautical mile trip. 

Designated as project BLADE – an acronym for Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe – this research effort utilises the first-ever A340 jetliner produced by Airbus, with its outboard wings replaced with approximately 10-meter-long laminar wing panels. These panels represent about two-thirds of the wing size on a short- or medium-range airliner, for which the laminar flow technology is deemed best suited.

BLADE is organized through Europe’s Clean Sky aeronautical research programme and involves 21 European partners with 500 contributors. During some 150 flight test hours, the BLADE testbed aircraft will collecting an estimated 2,000 parameters.

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