Airbus’ first A320NEO, MSN 6101 (A320-271N) has entered the final assembly line (FAL) at Toulouse, marking yet another milestone in the A320NEO program. The forward fuselage, which arrived from St. Nazaire in France, and the aft fuselage, which arrived from Hamburg in Germany, were mated at the FAL, marking the start of the final assembly.
The next stage is the joining of the wing to the fuselage. Overall, it takes about one month to complete the final assembly of an A320 Family aircraft.
The A320 program crossed a major milestone in November 2013, when the assembly of the first major component- the engine pylon- took place.
First flight is expected in the Autumn of 2014, almost 4 years after the program was launched in December 2010. Airbus took the landmark decision of re-engining the A320 Family after sensing imminent competition from Bombardier’s C-Series airplanes.
Airbus will retain 95% airframe commonality with the present A320, offering the benefit of high dispatch reliability associated with a mature airframe. Airbus has also effected incremental changes to its traditional Airbus A320, thereby eliminating the risks associated with too many modifications in one shot.
In the November of 2011, Airbus flew the first A320 with the version of the sharklets that are now seen on all new production Airbus A320 airplanes, first sharklet-equipped A320 being MSN 5428 delivered in December 2012. The sharklets, which will feature on the A320NEO as well, introduce fuel savings of upto 4% on long flights. Preliminary wing strengthening to handle the aerodynamic loads introduced by the sharklets, and airplane-wide weight reduction to offset the weight due to the strengthening have already been effected.
NEO’s difference from today’s in-production A320 aircraft is the further strengthening of the wing and fuselage to handle the loads associated with the heavier and larger New Engine Option (NEO): The Pratt and Whitney PW1100G and the CFM LEAP-1A. The new more efficient engine together with the sharklets realize a 15% fuel savings on 800nm route lengths, and up to 16%+ on the longer routes, compared to non-sharklet fitted Airbus A320 aircraft.
The Pratt and Whitney Geared Turbofan Engine PW1100G series for the A320, took to the skies in May 2013, on a Pratt and Whitney Boeing 747SP flying test bed.
Changes to the A320 are minimal and the least among other airplanes which are being re-engined and modified to a larger extent, such as the Boeing 737MAX and the Embraer Second Generation E-Jets E2. Historically, all new airplane programs have been met with significant dispatch reliability issues related to technical or maintenance issues associated with an immature airframe. The A320NEO program has the least changes, followed by the MAX and E2 program. The all-new Bombardier C-Series introduces many firsts for Bombardier, making it the program that may likely have the most number of issues, initially atleast: a reason which explains the low number of firm orders: 201, despite having 3 flying airplanes in the test campaign.
In contrast, the Embraer E-Jet E2 program, which airplanes are still “paper” (conceptual), has 200 firm orders. The Boeing 737MAX has 1,807 firm orders and the Airbus A320NEO program has firm orders for 2,667 airplanes.
Least changes with benefits where it matters to an already proven and mature airframe, incremental modifications, early introduction into service (Q4 2015), a dual engine source (all other new/re-engine programs have only one engine supplier), keeping up program development schedule, and the smallest training impact have contributed in large to the sales success of the program.
IndiGo has an order for 180 Airbus A320NEO Family aircraft, which include the A320NEO and A321 NEO. Go Air has 72 airplanes on order, and Air Asia 264 A320NEOs on order. Both IndiGo and GoAir’s A320NEOs will be powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G. IndiGo operates the IAE engines, of which Pratt and Whitney is a part. Go Air which flies CFM powered A320 aircraft, has switched engine suppliers, to Pratt and Whitney. The PW1100G engines offer two advantages: Room for growth, and availability sooner than the CFM LEAP-1A Engines. Air Asia, which flies CFM powered A320s, has opted for the CFM LEAP-1A to power its NEOs.
In this piece, we look into the significance of the E-Jets, particularly the 100 seat E-190, and the need for the Brazilian manufacturer’s launch of the upgraded, “Second generation” E-Jets.
The Embraer E-Jets: Making Regional Sense.
Bombardier stepped into the 70 seat jet space with the introduction of its CRJ700 into commercial operations in 2001, with Brit Air. 3 years later, Embraer introduced its 70 seat jet to commercial operations, with LOT Polish airlines. Till date, 192 Embraer E-170s have been sold, while the 70 seat CRJ700 has sold 347 airplanes.
One Embraer regional jet, that has been very well received, is the 100 seat Embraer 190, which, till date, has raked up 560 orders. No other Bombardier 70+ seat aircraft, including the C-Series has managed to touch those numbers, yet.
The Embraer 190 makes absolute sense. The typical single class cabin of the airplane accommodates 100 passengers comfortably. JetBlue, the largest operator of the E-190 with 59 aircraft, complements its Airbus A320 fleet of 129 aircraft. Jet Blue’s A320s are fitted with 150 seats.
Way back in 2003, when JetBlue had an all-Airbus A320 fleet and the cabins had 156 seats, the break-even load factor (BELF), as published by the airline, was around 72%, corresponding to 112 seats. To open up more routes which would have a demand less than this BELF, the 100 seat Embraer 190 was introduced in 2005. In the light of its reduced A320 seating, and spiralling fuel prices, the airline’s A320’s BELF has only gone up, further stressing the need for the Embraer 190.
Embraer acknowledges that a big advantage for E-Jet operators today is their ability to use the aircraft to “right-size” in lower-density markets.
But also acknowledged in 2010 was the realisation that if Airbus or Boeing re-engine their narrowbodies, and achieve better costs per trip, the advantage enjoyed by the E-Jets would disappear.
The upgrade saga
This left only two options for Embraer: Introduce a clean-sheet airplane that competes with Airbus and Boeing’s popular narrowbody families-A320 and 737-an idea that has played with Embraer since 2009; or do something to the existing offering to retain the regional jet family’s attractiveness to operators.
Late 2011, Embraer formally confirmed its decision to abandon the development of a competing airplane (which otherwise would have put 4 players in the coveted segment, including Bombardier with its C-Series), and instead focus on enhancing the value of the Embraer 170 and 190 families through a possible stretch and a definite re-engine, at an estimated program cost of US$1.7 billion. This was the outcome of Boeing announcing the delivery of the 737Max in 2017: a period too short for Embraer to both hold its grip on the market with its existing offering while developing a competing airliner. This also reflects the industry’s lower appetite for risk.
Embraer started working with E-Jet customers to define the performance goals and technical characteristics of the new aircraft family. One of the considerations was a composite airframe. Early 2012, Air Lease Corp advised Embraer to stretch the Embraer E-190 by 1 row (4 seats) and the E-195 by 2-3 rows (8-12 seats). The aim was to add capacity to compete with the CS100, while allowing for pricing flexibility in the light of much lower development costs associated with an airplane upgrade rather than a clean sheet design. Adding to this advantage is the huge customer base of Embarer’s E-Jets. A customer would prefer an upgrade “within the aircraft family" for near-seamless operational integration, rather than an all-new aircraft.
Embraer claims to be not just re-engining, but investing heavily to achieve the efficiency of a clean-sheet design. In January 2013, Embraer selected the Pratt and Whitney Geared Turbofan PW1000G series to power the second generation E170 and E190/E195 aircraft, which it calls the “E-Jet E2 family". The wings will feature a higher aspect ratio, longer wingspan, and raked wing tips instead of winglets. The landing gear will be lengthened to accommodate the larger engines, and the flight deck will feature the Honeywell’s Primus Epic™ 2 advanced integrated avionics system with large landscape displays, advanced graphics capabilities, and Honeywell’s Next Generation Flight Management System (NGFMS). The new airplanes will be 100% fly-by-wire, unlike the in-production E-Jets.
Unlike the C-Series, the wings for the E-Jet E2 are all metal, as, according to Embraer, composites aren’t cost-effective for such-sized airplanes. Embarer’s late announcement of the selection of the geared turbofan actually stands in its favour: the airframer benefits from Pratt and Whitney’s work on the smaller PW1200G for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), and the larger, mature PW1500G for the C-Series, both of which engine families are almost identical to those being offered for the E-Jets.: The PW1700G for the E175-E2 and the larger PW1900G for the E190/195-E2.
The reason to select the Geared Turbofan is not just the gear in the fan, which optimises fan speeds for greater efficiencies. The significant thermal margins available can allow for future engine thrust upgrades, allowing for further aircraft upgrades with the same engine family.
Plane Facts & 4-cast
The E-175 E2 can seat 88 passengers in a single class, in a comfortable 31" seat pitch. The in-production E-175 can seat only 78 passengers, comfortably, and 88 with an undesirable 29" seat pitch.
The E-190-E2, which is poised to continue the legacy of the well-performing in production E-190, comfortably seats an additional 6 passengers in a uniform 31" seat pitch. The existing E-190 can seat 114 passengers, but with a compromised seating comfort. The fuel efficiencies of the E-190-E2 lend it more range than the E-190.
The E-195-E2 seats 132 passengers in a uniform 31" seat pitch. The In-production E-195 can seat no more than 124 passengers in high capacity, and 116 in single class (with 31% of the seats featuring a 32" pitch, and 69% featuring a 31" pitch). Sometime in 2009, Embraer had studied an aircraft of such capacity, dubbed the E-195X, which would have used the same engines as the E-195. The concept was eventually dropped in 2010 the light of degraded aircraft performance in the absence of a re-engine.
Owing to its poor sales and the drop in demand for 70 seat jets, the E-170 won’t be re-engined.
Embraer’s best bet is on the 106 seat E-190-E2, and hence is focusing all its energy in targeting an entry-into-service (EIS) of mid-2018. The E-195-E2 will follow in 2019, and the E175-E2 in 2020.
Embraer foresees a demand for 6,400 commercial jets with capacity of up to 130 seats, over the next 20 years. With more than 1,200 E-Jets orders, Embraer has achieved a 42% market share in its segment. While Embraer will aggressively compete with Bombardier’s CS100, its present and future E-Jet offering has, and will eclipse Bombardier’s present line up of the CRJ family: CRJ700, CRJ900 and the CRJ1000, all three now marketed with the NextGen suffixes. Embraer is poised to grab a large share of that forecasted market.
*This section builds on research for a comprehensive article on the C-Series by The Flying Engineer.