New Pilots

Airbus outlines path to resolving A320neo hitch

2016 01 13

Airbus expects to deliver its first A320neo by the end of January, as it set a target of 650 overall aircraft deliveries for 2016.

The airframer had intended to hand over the initial aircraft to Lufthansa by the end of 2015 but was forced to postpone the delivery.

Although the aircraft had achieved certification, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier said the airframer had nevertheless been left with “a lot to do” before the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-powered aircraft could be transferred to the customer.

Speaking during a briefing in Paris, Bregier said the airframer had to give “enough confidence” that maintenance processes – notably for the new engine – were ready, and that the small available fleet could provide sufficient training to pilots.

“All that has been squeezed a bit in December,” he says.

Airbus chief operating officer Tom Williams says the airframer is working to overcome a rotor bow issue during start-up of the engine – a phenomenon in which temperature variations in the turbine along its shaft affect the alignment.

The problem emerges particularly when the engine is subjected to a cold start and is less of an issue between successive flights when the powerplant remains hot.

Williams says that resolving this requires a “careful” cranking procedure to ensure tip clearance and avoid rubbing.

Airbus is working on “small tweaks”, he says, including transferring more of the process to the full authority digital engine control, and expects to have overcome the issue by around February.

Williams says the changes will not affect the fuel-burn savings generated by the powerplant.

Bregier points out that additional pressure results from the aircraft’s not being an entirely new design. “Customers expect exactly the same level of maturity as [the current A320],” he says.

Airbus’s production of the A320neo will be “quite cautious” over the first half of the year, he adds: “Don’t expect to see hundreds of [A320neos] delivered.”

Production ramp-up will emerge largely in the second half. Airbus is aiming to transition to an all-A320neo output, while putting in place a plan to raise the monthly production rate to 60 in mid-2019.

Airbus is hiking monthly A320 production rates this year to 46 aircraft and intends to deliver at least 50 A350s. Bregier says that, as a result, the airframer predicts that it will deliver 650 aircraft during 2016, a record figure for the company.