The definition of the A220 is a ‘clean sheet’ project. It means starting to develop an aircraft from scratch, an opportunity to apply concepts learned over many years with other aircraft.
It’s also a big challenge for any aircraft manufacturer, as the costs are exorbitant and the uncertainties just as great.
No wonder Bombardier succumbed after investing billions of dollars in the C Series, a family of jets that emerged as a response to Embraer’s E-Jets.
In 2018, Airbus purchased the C Series, transforming the two launched models, the CS 100 and CS 300, into the A220.
It was an opportunity like no other in history because, unlike when Boeing inherited the MD-90 and MD-11 from McDonnell Douglas, the jets were just beginning their commercial career, which was very promising.
But along with the planes, Airbus also assumed the various issues accumulated in its development, including the high cost of production.
The scenario, five years later, is much more encouraging, with 785 firm orders in the backlog. In the meantime, Airbus has improved several aspects of the A220 such as its performance and also the assembly processes.
The plan foresees that in 2025 14 units will be produced per month on the two assembly lines in Canada and the United States. It is a small production rate compared to the A320neo family, but adequate to the aircraft’s current situation..
But that tends to change as the manufacturer is about to launch the A220-500, a jet with similar capacity to the A320neo and the 737 MAX. Lighter, it shouldn’t fly as far, but it can make up for that with operational savings and earlier delivery availability.
To understand the potential of the A220-500, just know that Airbus already has the A320neo production slots filled until 2029.
Therefore, for Airbus customers, it remains to wait in line, pay more for third-party aircraft or think about alternatives, not least because the A220-500 must also fly with the CFM LEAP engine, in addition to the Pratt & Whitiney GTF.
New looking aircraft
Airbus took to Le Bourget a brand new A220-300 that has just been delivered to Air France – the 25th in the airline’s fleet.
We took the chance and visited the aircraft to try to understand what makes it a strong competitor for Embraer.
As soon as we approached the A220 there was no way to imagine that the jet is Canadian. It appears to have been designed by Airbus itself. The aircraft’s configuration, windows and wings resemble a small A320.
One look at the cockpit and there are the side sticks, electronic flight controls that resemble a video game, as well as digital screens and a mouse to access the flight computer.
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Going to the passenger cabin, you can see a generous amount of space, much larger than that of the Embraer E2. With rows of five seats, the A220 follows the 3+2 configuration of the DC-9 and Fokker 100.
Air France has an easily convertible two-cabin layout. The airline blocks the left-hand aisle seat and right-hand center seat in what would be business class.
The ratio between classes is quickly changed by fixing divisions. There are 148 seats with a distance of 30 inches in most of the cabin.
The seats, lighting and overhead bins all have a contemporary design that conveys a modern feel. It really feels like you’re on a modern, well-built plane.
The overhead bin above the seats has a “Boeing-style” opening where the lid slides down. But Airbus will change that pattern to an upward pull-up to gain more space.
The cabin also has two toilets at the bottom of the aircraft and the galley, but there are several possible configurations, something the manufacturer is working on to further expand the options.
Of course, for the passenger, the advantages are less visible, especially since currently the most important thing has been to obtain more affordable ticket prices.
As for its operators, the A220 is second to none. Its range is so great for this type of plane that deliveries of Air France jets do not require a stopover between Canada and France.
According to the pilot of the carrier that received us, there is enough fuel for another 300 nautical miles.
Airbus still has to shoulder heavy losses from the A220 program, but that doesn’t seem to worry it. Not even the problems with Pratt & Whitney’s GTF engines.
It is clear to the manufacturer that the aircraft is like a precious stone and that it will shine brighter when properly polished.