Redrawing the lines

Airbus now classifies the A330 alongside the A321 as a medium aircraft in its product portfolio. Airbus

AIRBUS HAS fundamentally revamped the way it categorises the commercial aircraft market. It now segments commercial aircraft by four categories: small, medium, large and extra-large.

This change, a standout headline during an Airbus media briefing on July 6 in London, replaces the company’s long-established breakdown of the marketplace into single-aisle, small twin-aisle, intermediate twin-aisle and very large aircraft (VLA).

In the revamped classification, small aircraft are categorised as those with up to 230 seats and range of 3,000 nautical miles (5,556km). Medium are aircraft with a capacity of up to 300 seats and 5,000 nautical miles (9,260km) range. Large refers to jets with up to 350 seats and 10,000 nautical miles (18,520km) range. Finally, extra-large covers aircraft with more than 350 seats and 10,000 nautical miles range.

There are some significant points in this revised methodology. The A380, previously alone at the top of the product range in the VLA category, is joined in the new extra-large category by the A350-1000, the largest A350 family variant. This means the A350-900 now solely occupies the large category; both A350 variants were previously in the same intermediate twin-aisle classification.

The A321neo, including the new A321LR long-range variant, has been taken out of the single-aisle category where it sat alongside its A320neo and A319neo brethren and paired together with the A330neo to form the medium category.

The small category features the A320neo and A319neo and the two latest additions to the Airbus product range, the A220-100 and A220-300, which joined the company’s portfolio after Airbus took majority 50.01% control of the C Series programme on July 1, 2018. The A220-100 was formerly the CS100 and the A220-300 was previously the CS300.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the revised classifications is the teaming of products that were previously in distinct categories; the A321neo and A330neo are now together in the medium classification and the A350- 1000 and A380 are now paired up in the extra-large segment. Why has Airbus changed its methodology? The arrival into its portfolio of the A220 variants, which slot into the size category below the A320neo, has presumably had an impact, presenting an opportunity to tweak its product strategy.

However, Airbus insists the key reason is changing business models among airlines. Speaking during the briefing, Chief Commercial Of cer Eric Schulz said the new categorisations more closely resemble “the way we believe the market is now characterised, when you take into account the power in the small and mid-range [aircraft categories] that has been taken by the low-cost carriers.

“The market is changing slightly. The low-cost airlines are more present [in the market] and that means we need to be a little more creative to support these people. Their needs are different to the traditional carriers. We need to be more flexible, we need to be faster and take the risk out for these people because they grow very fast.”

The medium category occupied by the A321neo and A330neo shows how the new pairings are intended to work. Schulz suggested, for example, a low-cost carrier wanting to move into long-haul operations might use an A321LR to try out such services and then, if numbers rise, add capacity with an A330neo while maintaining Airbus commonality.

He said: “The beauty of our solution here [is] …they can test the long-haul market and if the long-haul doesn’t work for them they can reverse into the single-aisle, without complication, without adding another fleet.”

Schulz said Airbus is a firm believer in the A321/A330 combination and dismissed a potential new midsize aircraft, a notional ‘797’, from Boeing for this seating/range area: “Our products are the best and the cheapest to serve that market.”

Combining the A321 and A330 to cover the market up to 300 seats, and putting together the A350-1000 and A380 for the extra-large segment and the A320neo and A319neo with the A220-100 and A220-300 for the small segment, is presumably intended to off er a mix of complementary seating and range combinations, providing customers with a large choice of options on seating and range across the entire commercial aircraft market.

The changes are also notable in the context of the newlyannounced partnership between Boeing and Embraer. Boeing, too, now intends to have a strengthened presence in the single-aisle sphere of the market. Overall, the amendments to the Airbus classifications seem minor, but they are a genuine break with the tradition of the way Airbus organises its product line. In one way, they move Airbus closer to its competitor’s methodology.

Boeing’s Current Market Outlook (CMO) also groups together the A380 and A350-1000 (along with its 777/777X and 787-10, which are all medium/large widebodies in its terminology). On the other hand, there remain differences: Boeing still groups the A320, A319 and A321 as single-aisles. It will be interesting to see how the Boeing CMO compares redrawing the lines in its portfolio. Mark Broadbent