Mark Broadbent profiles the latest-generation Airbus A320neo and its variants
The Airbus A320 is the biggestselling airliner family ever. Since the original A320 was launched back in early 1984, there have been more than 14,700 orders.
With the A320neo (new engine option) models accounting for over 6,000 examples of this total by the start of October 2018, Airbus has clearly had no problems selling the latest re-engined variants and ensuring the A320 is ever more firmly entrenched as the dominant single-aisle aircraft, with around 60% market share.
Airbus announced the A320neo in December 2010, offering two different engine options, the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) PW1100GJM- series geared-turbofan and the CFM International LEAP-1A.
These more fuel-effcient powerplants offer double-digit reductions in fuel burn and emissions compared to the A320ceo (classic engine option) variants, as the previous-generation models powered by International Aero Engines V2500s and CFM56-7Bs are now marketed.
Airbus says that compared to those aircraft the A320neo offers a 15% fuel burn reduction per seat (the target is to achieve a 20% reduction per seat by 2020), 5% lower airframe maintenance costs and 14% lower cash operating costs per seat.
The manufacturer also says A320neos are 50% quieter (20dB less than ICAO’s Stage IV requirements) and emit 5,000 tonnes less carbon dioxide per year and 50% less nitrous oxide emissions than the CAEP/6 industry standard.
“We have challenges on the production side, but in the next decade we have opportunities and the potential to go to higher rates.” Guillaume Faury, Airbus
The baseline A320neo conducted its first light with PW1127G-JM engines (designated the A320-271N) in September 2014 and with LEAP-1A26s (the A320-251N) in May 2015. The A320-271N received US Federal Aviation Administration certiication in November 2015, with service entry following in January 2016 with Lufthansa. The A320-251N was certiied in May 2016 and delivered to Pegasus Airlines in Turkey two months later.
The A321neo with LEAP-1A32/33 engines (A321-251N) first lew in February 2016, followed a month later by the PW1133G-JM (A321-271N). Virgin America received the initial CFM-equipped jet in April 2017, with All Nippon Airways putting the first P&W-powered aircraft into service in September 2017.
Initial test lights of the smallest family member, the A319neo, took place in 2017 and its first delivery is due this year. The smallest A320ceo family model, the A318, is not part of the neo upgrade.
Each variant has its own role in the product range. With 165 seats two-class (or 194 singleclass) and 3,500 nautical miles (6,482km) range, the A320neo is optimised as a short to mediumrange workhorse serving network airline and low-cost carrier sectors, charter operations and regional lights such as coast-to-coast in the United States, Asia or Gulf.
In standard coniguration, the A321neo ofers 3,675 nautical miles (6,806km) range and 185 seats two-class (220 all-economy) or, in A321LR coniguration (see later), up to 4,000 nautical miles (7,408km) range and 206 seats two-class (244 maximum). The A319neo is the smallest family member with capacity for 140 passengers two-class (maximum 160) and 3,750 nautical miles (6,945km) range.
The most important diference between A320neo family variants and their A320ceo forebears are the PW1100G-JM and LEAP-1A turbofans.
The engines have larger fan diameters than the 56in (1.422m) diameters of the V2500s and CFM56-7Bs powerplants on the A320ceos; the PW1127G-JM’s is 81in (2.057m) and the LEAP-1A’s is 78in (1.981m). A large fan diameter provides a high bypass ratio (12:1 on the PW1100G-JM and 11:1 on the LEAP- 1A) to improve eiciency and reduce fuel consumption.
The PW1100G-JM has a gearbox between the fan and the low-pressure compressor (LPC) to enable the fan to rotate at closer to its optimum speed and make the lowpressure turbine (LPT) more eicient.
The PW1100G-JM has 16 stages (three in the LPC, eight in the high-pressure compressor (HPC), two in the high-pressure turbine (HPT) and three in the LPT); the LEAP- 1A has 22 stages (three LPC, ten HPC, two HPT, seven LPT).
Both engines feature advanced new technologies to reduce weight and improve eiciency. The PW1100G-JM was the first commercial aero engine to feature titanium aluminium (Ti Al) alloys in the LPT blades; according to MTU Aero Engines (one of P&W’s suppliers) blades made from this compound weigh half as much as the nickel alloys traditionally used and can operate at higher temperatures.
The LEAP-1A also features Ti Al parts. Other new technologies in the CFM engine are ceramic matrix composite materials in the HPT shroud, designed to reduce weight, improve eiciency and optimise cooling, and 3-D woven carbon ibre composite fan blades and fan case (manufactured using a resin transfer moulding process). The metal fuel nozzles are manufactured using an additive manufacturing process (where parts are created using layers of ine metal powder), which CFM says is up to 25% lighter than traditional nozzles.
Sharklets and optimised cabin
Another key new feature on the A320neo are Sharklets, the 2.4m (7.8ft) devices that replace the previous wingtip fences and are designed to improve lift and reduce drag.
Airbus introduced Sharklets on the A320ceo, initially as an option on new-build aircraft and subsequently as a retrofit for in-service jets, but they are standard on the A320neo. The company says they provide up to 4% reduced fuel burn over longer sectors and an annual carbon dioxide reduction of around 1,000 tonnes (2,204lb) per aircraft.
Innovations continue inside the aircraft. The A320neo variants have thinner sidewall panels that have enabled Airbus to introduce what it calls efficiency enablers, which, the company claims, “allow airlines to fit more seats in the cabin with equivalent comfort, or the same number of seats with more comfort”.
A new rear lavatory and galley arrangement called Space-Flex converts previously unused cabin space in the rear bulkhead into revenue space, with up to six extra seats, as well as an accessible lavatory. A separate arrangement called Cabin-Flex features a new optimised lavatory and modified over-wing emergency exit positions that enable airlines to use the maximum usable cabin length. These features are designed to maximise seating and contribute to the aircraft’s efficiency by improving its per-seat operating cost.
In 2017, Airbus announced it would offer its Airspace cabin as an option across its entire single-aisle family, either as a line fit or a retrofit. Airspace was originally conceived for the A350 and A330neo, but it was logical for Airbus to roll it out to its single-aisles to offer cabin design commonality across its range.
A key feature of Airspace on the A320neo is the overhead storage compartment, which Airbus claims is now the largest on a singleaisle aircraft. The bin is 40% bigger than the A320ceo’s, meaning bags can be stored vertically and enabling five rather than four 24 x 16 x 10in (609 x 406 x 254mm) bags to be carried.
Airspace is introducing fully customisable LED mood lighting (there are 16.4 million colour options), fully integrated window shades, and an updated lavatory featuring coloured mood lighting, antibacterial coatings, an automatic aroma dispenser, and sound and touchless control options.
Airspace also has a modular in-flight entertainment platform with overhead video and in-seat audio/video on-demand and provision for in-seat power, wireless flexible connectivity and mobile telephony.
Introduction of the full Airspace package on the A320neo is targeted for 2020; the low-cost carrier JetBlue will be the first to put it into service.
Although the A320neo has new-generation engines, the Sharklets and revised cabin, Airbus is keen to stress its commonality with the A320ceo. The company emphasised to AIR International: “It was a key factor of success for the customer. They appreciate they have improvements in performance and fuel burn without any penalty on services and support. It’s a win-win.”
Airbus’ communications on the A320neo family contain few specific details about commonality with the legacy A320ceo, but research reveals more a little more detail about how it was achieved. An article in a 2012 issue of the company’s FAST (Flight Airworthiness Support Technology) publication noted that Airbus only changed “what is necessary to integrate the new engines, keeping the rest of the aircraft in harmony with the operators’ existing economic and logistical models”.
The article explained a feasibility study during the design phase graded items in the A320neo’s Recommended Spare Parts Listing (RSPL) against four criteria: fully common with the A320ceo; partially common, with only shared hardware; partially common, but interchangeable; and non-common.
The FAST article gave a couple of examples of how this analysis influenced the design. It was determined the hardware for the flight augmentation, elevator/aileron and the display management computers required only a software update and, “once loaded on to the part, it can be installed on either the neo or standard A320 family aircraft”.
“Our airline customers are very happy with the neos… they deliver the level of fuel burn which is expected.” Guillaume Faury, Airbus
The RSPL analysis also showed modifying the integrated drive generator (IDG) on the LEAP-1A to add functionality “would have changed the part number” from the IDG used on the A320ceo, so the modification was rejected and the existing IDG retained.
The Airbus spokesperson said the extensive commonality between an A320ceo and an A320neo means “there is no impact on the customers” in terms of spares and the supply chain between operating an A320ceo and an A320neo. It also means there are few additional training costs for engineering and flight crews when an operator takes on A320neos; the new models have the same type rating as the older aircraft and an A320ceo-qualified pilot can fly a A320neo after attending only one training course.
Although the A320neo variants are packed with new technologies, ironically issues with the most crucial of those technologies – the engines – have led to big disruption affecting the aircraft’s service entry.
Start-up and cool-down issues with the PW1100Gs prompted the first slated PW1127G-JM-equipped A320neo operator, Qatar Airways, to reject its first aircraft, leaving Lufthansa to take up that mantle instead. The PW1100G-JM has subsequently experienced problems with the combustion chamber, fan blade and cracking of the knife-edge seal in the HPC. The seal cracking led to some in-flight shutdowns and rejected take-off s, prompting the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in February 2018 to issue an emergency airworthiness directive for the engine.
The LEAP-1A has had fewer reported issues, although early-build engines reportedly suffered problems with the booster performance in the compressor section, and there was a degradation issue with the ceramic matrix composite shroud on the HPT.
Both suppliers have addressed the respective issues with each engine, introducing changes to the manufacturing process and retrofitting fixes to the affected powerplants already in service.
Nevertheless, the problems have disrupted the P&W and CFM production lines and the supply chains feeding them, which has meant Airbus has received fewer engines than expected and, in turn, caused lower-thanplanned A320neo delivery rates.
A visible consequence of the disruption has been the sight of dozens of newly produced A320neos sat at Toulouse outside the final assembly line awaiting their engines. There were around 100 such aircraft, known as ‘gliders’, parked at Toulouse at one point in the spring. Speaking at an investors’ conference in London in July 2018, Airbus Commercial Aircraft President Guillaume Faury confirmed the number of gliders had reduced to 86. When AIR International asked Airbus in September to confirm the current number, a spokesperson said “about 70” such airframes remained.
This indicates the backlog is clearing and, in another sign the delays are easing, Airbus’ monthly-updated orders and deliveries data shows the A320neo Family delivery rate is increasing overall. The figures show 318 aircraft were delivered in the two-and-ahalf years from January 2016 to the end of May 2018 (an average monthly rate of around 11 deliveries for that period), but that 471 had been delivered by the end of September 2018. There were 41 deliveries in June, 44 in July, 31 in August (the European summer holiday season always results in a lower delivery rate that month) and 37 in September.
Faury told investors a “back-loaded recovery plan” will see an upturn in engine deliveries in late 2018 and a corresponding increase in the pace of aircraft deliveries. Airbus told AIR International it is maintaining its target of delivering around 800 A320 family aircraft by the end of this year.
Of course, this does not mean things have not been, nor may continue to be, disruptive for customers. A Lufthansa spokesperson told AIR International: “We were delighted to be the launch customer for the A320neo and are still convinced of the quieter and fuel-efficient engine technology, but unfortunately we have been behind schedule for months and we are clearly feeling this capacity bottleneck.”
Lufthansa was originally due to have nine A320neos by the end of 2017 and receive more aircraft this year, but by the start of October it had only 13, and the spokesperson said the carrier expects only four more A320neos by the end of 2018.
Lufthansa is hopeful of the issues being resolved, the spokesperson telling AIR International: “We expect the shortages and technical difficulties with the engine to end quickly.”
Many other airlines have had fewer deliveries than planned. In the United States, for example, the low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines received its first A320neo in October 2016, but by October 2018 had received just five jets. According to the airline’s latest fleet plan, only two more jets will be delivered this year.
Several early operators have also experienced disruption from having A320neos removed from service to have the fixes applied. Two Indian carriers, IndiGo and GoAir, have been among the carriers affected in this regard. Reports in back in August said IndiGo was forced to ground as many as nine of its A320neos for remedial work.
Despite the engine issues, Faury emphasised to investors: “When [the engines are] on the wing they do the job; they deliver good performance. Our airline customers are very happy with the neos, either with the Pratt & Whitney or the CFM, when they fly and deliver the level of fuel burn which is expected.”
Operators echo Faury’s point. A spokesperson from Scandinavian Airlines, which at the time of writing had 21 A320neos in service from its order for 65, declined to provide specific figures, but told AIR International: “We are satisfied, and the aircraft meet our expectations regarding fuel consumption and performance.”
The launch operator is pleased, too. The Lufthansa spokesperson said: “The new engines lead to significantly better efficiency: fuel consumption is reduced by around 15% per seat, [or] even by around 20%, than before.”
The Lufthansa Group claims a study carried out into the take-off noise of its A320s using the airline’s standard take-off procedures and a 73,500kg (162,039lb) maximum take-off weight showed the A320neo’s noise contour was around 50% less than the A320ceo’s.
However, commercial aircraft owners use other metrics beyond these headline figures to assess an aircraft’s performance, such as the cost of maintenance and the replacement of life-limited parts (the latter a measure dependent on sector length and utilisation) and asset value over the long term.
A July 2018 research paper on the A320neo family prepared by the Dublin-based lessor FPG Amentum said: “Any firm conclusions being drawn as to projected maintenance cost savings, at this early stage of an engine type’s programme, need to be strongly caveated due to the engine manufacturers’ control of material costs and power by the hour programmes.”
“You can perform short-haul missions, medium-haul missions or transatlantic with 200 passengers.” Airbus
Bizjet and multimission versions
Besides the three main A320neo family models, there is the ACJneo business jet variant launched by Airbus in May 2015. The ACJ320neo is optimised for up to 25 passengers and routes of up to 6,000 nautical miles (11,112km) and the ACJ319neo for up to eight passengers on routes of up to 6,750 nautical miles (12,501km). The first order, for an ACJ320neo, was placed by the UK-based Acropolis Aviation. Delivery of this aircraft is scheduled for late 2018. In June 2015, Airbus booked the first ACJ319neo, for Alpha Star. The A321neo is not currently offered as an ACJneo.
Earlier in 2018 Airbus confirmed it is evaluating developing the A320neo into a multimission platform. The company said this potential new variant, designated the A320M3A, would be optimised for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles such as maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare and be outfitted with modular rollon/ roll-off payloads for passenger and cargo airlift and medevac.
The company said its “consideration of the A320M3A is in response to market demand, spurred by the growing use of more capable ISR systems which require physically larger host platforms with increased electrical power and more eff cient cooling systems than previously were the case for C4ISR aircraft”.
Airbus said an A320M3A could be a “proven, low-risk solution” for countries seeking new multimission aircraft, with the aircraft offering range, endurance, operational and lifecycle costs, proven reliability and a worldwide supply chain and training network.
The paper added: “It is not yet confirmed that there will be no longer term adverse value or maintenance cost impacts” due to the technical rework on early A320neo aircraft.
Airbus has ambitious future production goals for the A320neo family. The company wants to raise output from 50 aircraft per month (which includes both A320ceos and A320neos) to 60 per month this year. It is also looking at a further boost to rate 63 and, longer term, hiking output even more, to as many as 70 aircraft a month. Faury, who in October 2018 was announced as the next Airbus Group CEO from 2019, told investors at the London meeting: “In the short term, we have challenges on the production side, but in the next decade we have opportunities and the potential to go to higher rates.”
The more aircraft it delivers the more revenue a manufacturer earns, so with its 6,000-aircraft-plus A320neo backlog Airbus’ ambitions on production rates are unsurprising. The company is aware efficiency is key to achieving its goals and it wants to modernise its production system to, as Faury put it, “take all the potential of automation”, and speed up assembly times.
With this objective in mind, Airbus earlier this year opened a fourth single-aisle final assembly line at Hamburg. This line features two sevenaxis robots that are able to drill almost 80% of holes on the upper fuselage and mobile tooling platforms that use laser trackers to navigate autonomously on the production line.
Faury believes Airbus can do more, telling investors: “This production system was designed 30 years ago and has grown up with several steps through the ramp-up … but still, when we compare to the A350, where we have a fantastic brand-new, modern, automated production system, we have potential for doing better on the singleaisle family.”
Given all the production issues faced by Airbus’ engine suppliers, is an ambitious rampup feasible just now? After all, if suppliers have struggled to meet the current planned output levels, there must be question marks over how and when even higher rates are to be achieved and sustained.
Analyst Richard Aboulafia, Vice-President Analysis at the Teal Group consultancy, believes CFM and P&W and their supply chains hold the key. He told AIR International: “Airbus is able to ramp up. This is purely an engine question, and there, part of the question is with the engine primes and part is with the castings and forgings suppliers. They can probably get to 60, but beyond that they might baulk.”
Faury acknowledged Airbus “has to be consistent with the pace of production” and not disrupt output. He told investors: “The engine-makers have been very clear they don’t want to commit now on additional ramp-up for engines and they are first putting priority on stabilising and securing their own supply chains.
“They’ve told us they will come back to us by the end of this year with their views on the speed at which they could go from rate 60 to rate 70. This is something we will close I think in 2019. There is an appetite, there is a need, but this needs to be done in an appropriate way.”
A321neo and A321LR
One particularly striking aspect of the A320neo family programme from the sales point of view has been the A321neo variant’s great success. By October, 2,029 examples of this variant had been sold. The last few years have seen major operators such as AirAsia, Delta Air Lines, easyJet, JetBlue and Norwegian all place big orders for A321neos and, tellingly, some customers such as easyJet convert previous orders for the smaller A320neo and ‘up-gauge’ to the larger variant.
The A321neo orders include commitments for the A321LR (Long Range) subvariant launched early in 2015 and which obtained EASA and US Federal Aviation Administration type certification early in October after the first A321LR, D-AVZO (msn 7877), completed 100 hours of flight testing following its January 31, 2018 maiden flight from Hamburg. Deliveries are due to begin in the fourth quarter.
The A321LR is designed to fly 4,000 nautical miles (7,408km) with 206 passengers (at 36in/914mm seat pitch) two-class or 240 passengers in single-class high-density layout (28in/711mm pitch) compared to the baseline, i.e. non-A321LR-configured, aircraft.
The A321LR features structural reinforcements to the wing and lower fuselage, the Cabin-Flex interior arrangement and a 97,000kg (213,848lb) maximum takeo ff weight, up from the baseline A321neo’s 93,500kg (206,132lb), and a third 2,992-litre (790 US gallon) underfloor auxiliary centre fuel tank (ACT). Airbus notes that only A321neos with the Cabin-Flex arrangement can offer the 97,000kg take-off weight and the ability to install the third ACT, and customers will be required to specify to Airbus whether their aircraft is to be modified accordingly.
Airbus notes the A321LR will be the longestrange single-aisle airliner, “making it ideally suited to transatlantic routes and enabling airlines to tap into new long-haul markets which were not previously accessible to single aisle aircraft”.
It is designed to be an eff cient long-range replacement for ageing midsize aircraft that operate ‘thin’ transcontinental or transatlantic routes such as Boeing 757s; a graphic on D-AZVO’s fuselage depicting the Statue of Liberty and the Eiff el Tower indicates a typical route for which the A321LR is intended to be operated.
However, Airbus also stresses the A321LR’s adaptability, telling AIR International: “It is a very flexible aircraft. You can perform short-haul missions, medium-haul missions or you can go transatlantic with 200 passengers if you have the third additional fuel tank. You can add or remove the additional fuel tank given the type of mission you want to perform.”
The A321LR is unlikely to be the last A320neo family development. Boeing has studied a New Mid-market Airplane (NMA) concept for several years and there are reports it could launch a new mid-market aircraft (dubbed the ‘797’ by some, although not publicly by Boeing) in 2019. Airbus will naturally want to respond and there is talk it could bolster its mid-market offering in 2019 by launching another A321neo subvariant (dubbed the A321XLR by some analysts) in a bid to outflank the potential Boeing NMA.
When asked by AIR International about possible further enhancements, the Airbus spokesperson didn’t expressly rule out an A321XLR, saying: “We are always looking at ways to advance our product line. The A321 still has a lot of potential.” Aboulafia feels an A321XLR, if launched, could be “just a start … New wings, new engines, another stretch … they could all be possibilities and could help create a fantastic mid-market jet.”
The Teal Group believes it is “quite likely” any new technology could be rolled into other variants too and that, overall, “it’s quite possible that the A320 family stays in production through [to] 2050”.
“We are always looking at ways to advance our product line. The A321 still has a lot of potential.”Airbus