Impression Of The A320 With the 'Sharklets' (Airbus)

The month of June 2011 will remain one of Airbus’ most spectacular with massive aircraft sales being realized by the manufacturer particularly during the Paris Airshow held at Le Bourget Airport between June 20th and 26th. With 667 aircraft sold, the A320neo provided for the greater part of the staggering $72.2 billion worth of sales realized by the manufacturer (Airbus has revealed that commitments comprising Memorandum of Understanding for 312 aircraft are worth US$28.2 billion and firm purchase orders for 418 aircraft are worth around US$44.0 billion). The A320 “New Engine Option” was first offered commercially by Airbus in December 2010 as the latest improvement of the already highly successful A320 single-aisle passenger aircraft family. Since then, the A320neo has amassed 1,029 orders. The ‘neo’ has been marketed as the newer ‘eco-friendly’ highly fuel-efficient version of the A320 family with which a 95% airframe commonality is retained. In fact the introduction of  ‘Sharklets’ -referring to the new aggressively-designed blended winglets smoothly integrated to the wing tips- will be one way to differentiate the A320neo from the standard A320 family. However most of the performance improvements will come from the ‘New Engine Option’ with the introduction of the innovative Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1000G and the alternative CFM International LEAP-X. Together with the ‘Sharklets’, the Pratt & Whitney PurePower 1000G promises what Airbus claims will be “fuel savings of 15% translating in additional flight distance of 500 nm or two tonnes of payload at a given range”. The direct benefits for the environment are “3,600 tonnes less CO2 per aircraft per year” as well as “a double-digit reduction in NOx emissions” and “reduced engine noise”.

The Sharklets

The ‘Sharklets’ that will be installed on the A320neo are wingtips aerodynamic vertical extensions very similar to the blended winglets designed by Aviation Partners and now commonly sighted on Boeing 737NG, 757 and 767 aircraft. With their aggressive curved design, sharklets serve the same purpose as blended winglets: improving air flow around the aircraft wingtip and generating smaller trailing vortex thus reducing overall aerodynamic drag. The Blended Winglets concept as applied to Boeing aircraft is known to have resulted in a drag reduction of 6%, accruing range from 80 to 130 nm or an extra payload of 910 to 5,800lb on Boeing 737-800 while Boeing 737-700 gain 110-130 nm more in range or 1,100-4,400 lbs of extra payload on similar routes. On the A320neo, the Sharklets are expected to provide more than 3.5% savings in overall fuel consumption on long routes, while also improving overall performance, inclusive of take-off and range/payload (extra 1,100lbs or added range) in comparison to the standard A320.

The Pratt & Whitney PurePower 1000G

Pratt & Whitney PurePower1000G will initially power A320neo. The PurePower development program is more than 20 years old and benefits from more than $1 billion in research and development funding. The ubiquitous Fan Drive Gear System is now reaching full maturity, guaranteeing reliability and durability. A remarkable 12:1 bypass ratio is achieved by incorporating within the huge engine nacelle a large fan linked to a small engine compressor core via a gearbox. This set-up directs as little as 10% of the air being ingested in the nacelle to the engine core while the remaining 90% is used by the variable speed fan to provide so-called bypass thrust. As a result the PurePower® PW1000G engine provides a 16% fuel burn improvement with a noise footprints also reduced by 75%.

Pratt & Whitney Boeing 747 Test Aircraft With The PurePower Mounted As Engine Number 2 (Photo Pratt & Whitney)

The new Dynamics Regarding Airbus Order Books

Of the 1,029 A320neo ordered since launch, 667 commitments worth some US$60.9 billion were registered during the June 20th-26th Paris Air Show:

-Cebu Pacific order for 30 A321neo plus options for 7 A320 actually took place on June 16th 2011.

-GECAS orders 60 A320neo on June 20th 2011

-SAS orders 30 A320neo family aircraft June 20th 2011

-Air Lease Corporation orders 50 A320neo family, 11 A330 and 1 A321 on June 20th 2011

-TransAsia Airways orders 6 A321neo on June 21st 2011

-CIT orders 50 A320neo on June 21st 2011

-Garuda Indonesia signs MOU for 25 A320 for low cost unit CityLink June 21st 2011

-JetBlue orders 40 A320neo (MOU) June 21st 2011

-AviancaTaca orders 51 A320 (including 33 A320neo) June 22 2011

-Republic Airways Holdings (Frontier Airlines) for 40 A320neo and 40 A319neo on June 22 2011

-IndiGo orders 150 A320neo and 30 A320 June 22 2011

-LAN orders 20 A320neo June 22 2011

-ALAFCO orders 30 A320neo June 22 2011

-GoAir orders 72 A320neo June 23 2011

-Air Asia orders 200 A320neo June 23 2011

Some 34 standard A320 family aircraft worth $2.8 Billion were also ordered during this rush confirming the relevance of the standard aircraft. The updated Airbus June 2011 listing reveals a total of 7,562 A320 family ordered to date with 4,638 aircraft delivered to 233 customers (260 operators). This includes 80 A318, 1470 A319, 5080 A320 and 932 A321.

Meeting Production Goals

As sales of other aircraft have been relatively modest (commitments were received for 11 A330s worth US$2.4 billion, six A350s worth US$1.6 billion, and 12 A380s worth US$4.5 billion), Airbus is allocating manufacturing resources to fulfill strong demand for the A320 .With the A320neo projected availability date set for October 2015 and the introduction of the A319neo and A321neo models at a later date,  output rate is being increased to 42 aircraft per month in the fourth quarter of 2012. Already on June 3rd 2011, Airbus had announced that it was immediately dismantling the multi-national A320 passenger-to-freighter joint conversion program that had involved Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and Irkut since 2006. On June 29th 2011, Airbus announced that production of A320 rudders by Chinese partner Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Centre (HMC) would rise from 3 per month currently to 21 units per month by 2014. However Toulouse where the initial A320 assembly line remains will build most A320, with Hamburg retaining the manufacturing of A318 and probably A319neo and A321neo. Tianjin, home of the Chinese Harbin Hafei Airbus Composite Manufacturing Centre which has assembled to date 50 A320/A321 aircraft is also likely to grow work orders for the ‘neo’.

Conclusion

Airbus new fortunes are putting Boeing in an awkward position as a new replacement design for the Boeing 737’s 1965 design ( whose fuselage was inherited by the older 1950s Boeing 707) was recently postponed until about 2018. It now seems that a new design re-evaluation must be developed now under very stringent time constraints in order to avoid losing significant market shares.  Expectations that the ‘neo’ will be made available as an aftermarket retrofit kit involving ‘Sharklets’ and the PurePower Engine also remain widespread. This option would defer new aircraft upgrades as carriers will become confident that their A320 retrofitted to the ‘neo’ standard remain competitive. However this approach may buy additional time for Boeing to orchestrate a viable commercial response to the A320 ‘neo’ threat.

 

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