SEATS OF POWER
With its C Series acquisition, first A330neo taking off and landmark 100th A380 delivery for Emirates this month, Airbus is ending the year on a high, reports Dominic Ellis
It feels like a return to summer with three days of blue skies over Toulouse, the red and yellow leaves lining the river Garonne providing the only signs we’ve skipped into autumn. Mirroring the favourable weather, Airbus has been basking in its majority ownership announcement in the C Series, providing Bombardier with a brighter outlook after all the uncertainty over the programme and US tariff disputes – and it ended the week seeing off its first A330neo test flight. The European manufacturer will arrive at the Dubai Airshow with a glow this month.
Singularly and collectively, there was much to take in. From aircraft, corporate jet and urban mobility presentations, to campus walkabouts and coach trips encompassing different parts of this vast site – and even a day behind the scenes at Defence and Space learning about the complexity of satellites – the diversity of Airbus’ operation was self-evident. I can’t remember showing my passport so often without leaving the ground, but that was only to be expected in these hardware and data-protecting times.
AIRBUS RAISES SINGLE-AISLE PROFILE
It was a week when what we saw and what we read didn’t always tally. Most of the week saw widebodies in the viewfinder, but single aisles grabbed the limelight with Airbus announcing it will take a majority stake (50.01 per cent) in C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP) with Bombardier and Investissement Québec owning around 31 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. The deal aims to complete by the second half of 2018.
CSALP’s HQ and primary assembly line and related functions will remain in Québec with the support of Airbus’ global reach and scale, but Airbus will expand Final Assembly Line in Canada additional C Series production at its Alabama manufacturing site.
While outwardly a great deal for Bombardier’s embattled C Series, it looks a shrewd move by Airbus too, since it has committed only sales, marketing and procurement “but no upfront investment,” according to Chief Executive Tom Enders. Alain Bellemare, President and CEO of Bombardier, highlighted Airbus’ global scale, strong customer relationships – you find inspirational posters lining no end of office walls – and operational expertise as key reasons behind the deal. “This partnership should more than double the value of the C Series programme,” he beamed.
The partnership breathes new life into the 100-150 seat market for Airbus, since it hasn’t sold any A319s for five years.“Now we know this is a terrific aircraft and sits very well with our single-aisle range,” added Enders.“There are quite a few C Series customers out there but have held back . . . these customers will now be convinced.”
With 5,520 A320s in backlog, Airbus certainly doesn’t need convincing about the prospects of single-aisle aircraft demand, although it will be interesting to see how much spare capacity it will have should Enders be right, and a raft of C Series customers start queuing up. As much as the deal is a lifeline for Bombardier’s programme, perhaps the sheer weight of demand necessitates the tie-up; it’s not just in Toulouse where narrowbodies are being churned out; the first A320neo assembled in Tianjin was recently delivered to Air Asia.
In its Growing Horizons 20-year forecast, Airbus predicts single aisles will account for 71 per cent of units and top 24,810 planes, significantly more than twin-aisle (8,690) and very large aircraft (1,410). As for the Middle East, fuelled by 3.4 per cent real GDP growth, Airbus anticipates 2,526 new deliveries in the next two decades with single-aisle planes also accounting for the lion’s share (1,082), significantly more than demand for 402 very large aircraft. Currently with Middle East orders, the A320ceo and A320neo are stand-outs, accounting for 268 and 263 planes respectively.
Commenting on the current Middle East market, Bob Lange, Senior Vice President, Head of Market and Product Strategy for Airbus, said: “There have
been short-term disturbances for all concerned but the growth you’re losing temporarily doesn’t disappear – people still travel. We expect this will be a level of adjustment for a year or two before the Middle East comes rebounding back. The potential for Middle East economies to build away from oil and gas-based revenues to trade, tourism, commerce and manufacturing will continue.”
Airbus’ Middle East forecast includes Iran, which is widely expected to grow its aviation industry despite current US tensions, and Lange didn’t see any threat to Gulf carriers.“For a country which has been starved of the potential to grow air traffic, I’m not sure their priority is to go head-to-head with other ME carriers but grow their own industry. The density of population, topography and potential to grow is tremendous – in strongest growth circles, Iran could mirror Turkey.”
Turkish Airlines is among Airbus’ biggest customer regionally, operating 68 A321-200s, 37 A330-300s, 24 A320-200s, 17 A330-200s, nine A319-132/1000s and four A340-330s.
WILL AIRLINES BUY A380PLUS?
Emirates remains integral to Airbus’VLA programme – that message was clear inside and outside – but doubts continue to circulate over the aircraft’s future. Airbus has delivered the A380 to 13 customers and maintains it has orders until the end of 2019, but concedes production has slowed.“Of course we are not delivering as before – we’ll deliver one per month next year,” said Fouad Attar, Head of Commercial Aircraft, Africa and Middle East.“All the teams are working to have more backlog after 2020. Today we are all working to push this aeroplane, it’s needed for the industry and the only one that can answer to airport congestion.”
Airbus is pinning hopes on a reconfigured ‘A380plus’, which offers fuel-saving winglets, up to 80 more seats and the option of a nine-abreast premium economy section. Sir Tim Clark has said it is a cabin it should “take seriously” and all eyes will be on Emirates to see if a signature follows the words, possibly at this month’s Dubai Airshow.
Attar is hopeful the adjustments will reassure its biggest customer and is keen to stress it provides airlines more opportunity for segmentation.“For the ultra-long ranges, we may see some first class, but all airlines are reducing it and today business class is very comfortable and more airlines are looking at premium economy – which is like the old business class. Plus we have options for new cabins such as low-cost economy.”
FIRST A330NEO TEST FLIGHT TAKES OFF
As I was about to board my Air France flight back to Paris, the first A330neo took off (-900) on its four hour 13 minute maiden test flight, and the new engine option is due to enter service in 2018. To date 12 customers have placed orders for 212 A330neos.
Against overcast skies, the event generated plenty of colourful exchanges on Airbus Live Twitter, as befits the instantaneous media age when you’re as connected on the other side of the world as much as the other side of the runway.
This flight test aircraft, featuring Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 turbofan engines, nacelle, titanium pylon, new wings and an Airspace by Airbus cabin, will be joined by two more in the next year for the A330-900 and A330-800 versions.
The larger A330-900 will accommodate up to 287 seats in a typical three-class layout, while the A330800 typically will seat 257 passengers in three classes. The 330neo provides airlines with increased range of 400nm and Airbus claims it cuts fuel consumption by 14 per cent per seat. Other Airspace by Airbus cabin changes include: • customised ceiling and lighting panels in the
“Today we are all working to push this aeroplane (A380), it’s needed for the industry and the only one that can answer to airport congestion.”
• larger bins with more overhead storage • 4G IFE with HD viewing resolution and high
bandwidth connectivity There are 858 A350XWBs on order and 744 in backlog and so far 114 A350-900s have been delivered, including most recently, the first of six to Air Mauritius (28 business class seats, 298 economy seats).
The A350-1000 made several test circuits during the course of the week. It is 7m longer than the -900 meaning it can hold 40 more seats in a typical threeclass configuration.
SUM OF ITS PARTS
Airbus is a cross-continental company with complex multi-modal transport needs covering air, sea, river and road. Special trucks and trailers are used for transporting large parts to Blagnac – every two-to-three weeks, roads are closed and the next shipments will be mid-November – and I spotted a pair of Belugas staring large-nose-to-large-nose on the final morning; these distinctively shaped planes fly in most components of the A380 (with the exception of six parts).
It’s no surprise that the A350 hangar was busier given the order volumes; theoretically Airbus can make four A380s a month but currently it’s one. An enormous tailfin soared above us, waiting for assembly. Operators drill 19,000 holes to join the three fuselage sections – 2,000 for the wings – and are supported by mobile lasers. On completion, they reverse out and fly to Hamburg for cabin fit-outs.
TLS has two runways, one covering 3,000m and the other 3,500m, and Airbus accounts for around 10 per cent of airport traffic and employs 21,000 people locally (55,000 worldwide).
Airbus partners with many local organisations and in the UAE, Strata produces composite components for the A330, A330neo, A350XWB and A380. A ‘Future Scientists’ programme, with Al Bayt Mitwahid, aims to provide 21 Emirati high-school students with the opportunity to study aeronautics over three years and on completion, they will receive an internship at Airbus or its industry partners’ facilities in the UAE.
ACJ TARGETS AIRLINES TRADING UP
Airbus Corporate Jet recently won a new A319neo order from an Asian customer “trading up from a traditional business jet” and believes the model is perfectly placed to capitalise on demand for larger cabins. Three A319neos and six 320neos have now been booked by Acropolis Aviation, Comlux, K5 Aviation and “undisclosed clients”. Deliveries of the ACJ320neo will begin at the end of 2018 and ACJ319neos from Q2 2019. The ACJ320neo can fly 25 passengers up to 6000nm, while the 319neo is designed for eight passengers up to 6,750nm. Chadi Saade, Airbus’Vice President Commercial, said: “My main market is to upgrade people from Gulfstream to ACJ319s, from Global 6000 to ACJ320s.”
FOREFRONT OF DATA, DIGITAL AND SATELLITE COMMS
I’m dressed in a light blue lab coat, hairnet and slippers and face-to-face with an $150 million electric propulsion satellite. It’s not quite how you imagine it in space – more a cross between a school project and large festive gift with colourful coatings and protrusions – but the solar panel is clearly visible and when fully extended, will be wider than an A320s’ wingspan. Walking around the airline hangars yesterday was comprehensible (even if I could only guess at the
engineering jigsaw) but here, in the Defence and Space section, I’m lost in space. On every cognitive level – visually, technically and scientifically – I’m struggling to keep up, but it’s a fascinating insight into the complex work that’s providing the foundations for 21st century data and communications.
The Dubai Airshow has announced some of the speakers and presenters at the Space Conference, a new feature for 2017 taking place 13-14 November. Among them are Apollo 15 Command Module Pilot Col. Al Worden, USAF-Ret; George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic; H.E Dr Mohammed Al Ahbabi, Director General of the UAE Space Agency and Omran Sharaf, Project Manager, Emirates Mars Mission, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). UAE’s investments in space technologies have already exceeded AED20 billion while its ambitions include the Mission to Mars Hope mission planned for 2021.
SKYWISE JOINS THE DIGITAL DOTS
Airbus is patently a company where data technology is as key as aircraft hardware, and its digital remit isn’t restricted to operations in Toulouse. Its Skywise programme is designed as a single aviation data platform in collaboration with Palantir Technologies.
The combination of global data and aerospace experience aims to reduce flight disruptions; decreae maintenance cost through predictive maintenance; optimise flight operations; transform cabin and ground operations; make faster decisions to cope with unexpected events; and optimise fleet management by interpreting high volumes of fleet and flight operations data.
“For some time we’ve been delivering digital planes,” said Matthew Evans, Vice President Digital Transformation Progams. “Data is not a new subject for Airbus – going back to the A300 and even the A320 designed nearly 30 years ago was built with 24,000 sensors and today, the A350 has over 250,000 parameters. But historically data has been fragmented. When airlines share data, they have access to the core functionalities of the platform. We see Skywise as the centre of a more digital, more connected aviation industry.”
CITYAIRBUS TARGETS URBAN CONGESTION
Urban mobility is a hot topic from Dubai to Donauwörth and Airbus is busy working on projects designed to tackle urban congestion. The CityAirbus vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air vehicle, billed as the ‘air taxi of the future’, can carry up to four passengers. Airbus Helicopters’ Donauworth facility (overall system) and its Ottobrunn/Munich site (electrical propulsion) are working on the project and the first flight is targeted for 2018.
Main: The first A330neo flight takes off from Toulouse
Above: A330neo Airspace Economy Class
Above: The A3501000, currently undergoing flight tests, has secured 169 orders and will seat 366 passengers.
Below: Chadi Saade, Airbus’ Vice President Commercial for Airbus Corporate Jets
Above: Air Mauritius’ A350-900
Above: CityAirbus aims to take flight in 2018