Airbus A220 - Embraer

New name, new family, new country – the Airbus A220 has reached one hundred

Reiner Hertl
07.01.2020
5 minutes

There was due reason for celebration at Airbus in Mirabel, Canada! The 100th customer-ordered A220 leaves the assembly line for an airline. Destination: airBaltic. The one-time first airline to fly the A220-300 now takes delivery of this 100th machine. Let’s take the opportunity to trace the history of the aircraft. Its origin was in Canada too …

From C and B to A: C series, developed by Bombardier, taken on by Airbus

The C series aircraft range – mid-range jet for 100-150 passengers – was originally built by Bombardier Aerospace. In the process, the cost-intensive development of this narrow-body aircraft family also brought the Canadian corporation into financial turbulence. The giant of the skies Airbus ultimately had to step in and take on the series, re-naming the aircraft type, which had meanwhile become the CS, as the Airbus A220. Then in July 2018:

We are delighted today to welcome the A220 into the Airbus family.

Guillaume Faury (now the Airbus CEO and successor to ‘Major Tom’ Thomas Enders)

Airbus was delighted, as the Europeans were in effect able to expand and supplement their portfolio overnight. The Americans reacted similarly by entering into a new alliance with the Brazilian company Embraer: The ‘Boeing Brazil – Commercial’ joint venture envisages manufacturing 90-150-seat aircraft. The eternal duopoly Airbus | Boeing also seems to be largely intact in this corner of the market. The ‘big two’, as it were, also share the short and medium-haul routes.

For example, the Embraer E2 jets are fighting with the Airbus A220 for the same business (with the A220 turning in a stellar performance in this duel; Embraer together with Boeing is however endeavouring to get its aircraft’s nose back in front).

With each of the regional aircraft families having been taken over, exciting new chapters have been opened and thus throw up interesting questions. How will their marketing and attraction alter; which growth opportunities will arise? Let’s stay focussed on the A220. Besides the two versions on offer A220-100 (108-133 passengers) and the A220-300 (130-165 passengers), extensions have long since been under consideration (A220-500 and A220-900). These are considerations that had been mulled over in the Bombardier era, but not implemented:

More sales success through greater range and increased maximum take-off weight

Airbus A220 - Air Baltic - Embraer

Whereas demand was sluggish for the Bombardier C and CS series, the demand for the single-aisle jet has gathered pace under the new Airbus umbrella. By November 2019, Airbus was already able to boast 530 definite orders for the A220 family. The Airbus brand simply carries such prestige. The high quality characteristics are a strong purchase argument – with fuel efficiency, low emission rate and high passenger comfort worthy of praise, for example (not to mention ‘Made in the USA’ in the pipeline: more on this later).

The fact that Airbus is gearing up the A220 for longer routes is also sure to contribute to positive publicity. The maximum take-off weight (MTOW) has increased by more than two tonnes. In this vein, the range has increased to 6,200 kilometres (A220-300) and even 6,300 kilometres (A220-100). These new limits – enough for a short transatlantic flight! – are due to be available from the middle of next year.

Mirabel and now Mobile – on the US market and manufacturing small passenger jets

Glasses were raised in Mirabel to the 100th A220. Parallel to this, they will soon also undergo final assembly in Mobile, USA, beside the bestseller A320. Airbus, with its final assembly line in Alabama, has been able to tap into Boeing’s backyard. This is in the key USA market – which could further open up as such for the A220 too.

Even when taken in the round, the American market for European manufacturers is significantly reliant upon orders from American carriers. Which brings us back to the subject matter of the competing ‘big two’ and the small passenger jets. Let’s shift our focus to another key market: all the way to the Far East. After all, if two dogs are fighting for a bone, could a third run away with it?

Medium-haul routes in the Middle Kingdom

The two giants of the industry have practically had the Chinese market to themselves for a long time too. In this aviation market – it is estimated that at least 7,000-9,000 aircraft will be required in the next 20 years – the Chinese aviation manufacturer Comac is intending to reel in the competition from its third place. As part of the ‘Made in China 2025’ industrial plan, it is primarily the Comac C919 that wants to position itself as a twin-engine narrow-body aircraft against the A320 and Boeing 737 medium-range models in the East Asian skies. In this way, A(irbus)-B(oeing) would be supplemented with the ‘Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’ state corporation to form a new A-B-C. This would perhaps involve a C929: the planned wide-bodied aircraft to seat 300 passengers might get off the ground in cooperation with Russia.

Airbus with an updraft, Boeing with a downdraft, Comac in the overtaking lane

The current trade wars are shifting certain aspects of the market. There is of course the Boeing crisis on the one hand – production of the successful 737 Max being placed on ice and the resignation of CEO Dennis Muilenburg. On the other hand, the A320 family is enjoying a meteoric rise, the A220 family is on a successful course and the orders are mounting (Air France/KLM has namely placed firm orders for 60 Airbus A220-300 this very December).

The aviation industry itself is not the only factor in flux here. Above all, more and more people themselves are taking to the skies. According to a study by the German Aerospace Center (only available in German), the number of air passengers could more than double by 2040. The DLR researchers also expect that each aircraft will have an ever increasing number of passengers. Maybe this will lead to the -500 or -900 A220 versions being realised after all.

The Airbus A220-300: in more depth

This video shows how the A220 is designed and assembled in Mirabel, in preparation to get airborne for the first time. Here you can see the aircraft on its Air Canada maiden flight, which also took place recently in December 2019. And we thus come full circle back to Canada with the A220. The aircraft is soaring ever higher – having cracked one hundred, it’s now aiming to head well into three figures.

by Reiner Hertl

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