Airbus currently is planning for the next new, clean sheet airplane around 2030 and now are focusing on incremental improvements to the existing product lines, officials said at the Innovations Days annual media briefing last week in Toulouse.
Fabrice Bregier, CEO of the Airbus commercial aircraft unit, said that “innovation is on a case3-by-case basis,” with a successor to the A320 family requiring an engine “with great benefit.” He did not define this, but previously Airbus indicated a successor needs a combined 30% airframe/engine improvement to make an entirely new airplane design worthwhile.
Bregier did say, “I don’t want to invest $10bn and have a poor result. Incremental improvements have to be constant. I have pushed my engineers and work has started to pay off with shorter-term incremental innovations.
“We need to look ahead for break-through technologies 10-15 years in the future.” The A320neo, now in assembly, is a straight-forward re-engining of the legacy A320 family that first entered service in 1988 and which has undergone Product Improvement Packages since. Airbus has implemented PIPs to the A330 family, dramatically increasing its range since introduction in 1994 and officials are currently considering a re-engining program. The A380, which entered service in 2007, is also being considered for a new engine upgrade. The prospect of further stretching the A350-900 beyond the A350-1000 is also being studied, with and without a new engine. System upgrades are being considered for the A320neo, according to a recent Aviation Week report.
Bregier also said that “given more time and investment, the A350-800 will become a very good aircraft.” The -800 currently has only 34 orders after most were upgraded to the larger -900 and -1000, and some were canceled outright. “We have to revisit the trade-offs and take off some weight.”
Although Bregier says he has yet to be convinced of the business case for the A330neo, he believes that the lighter, short-range A330 provides more value than the Boeing 787-8 and on some routes its larger sibling, the A350-900. “If you don’t need the range, you are carrying around extra weight,” he says of the -900. As for the 787-8, Bregier believes the airplane is too small for its capital cost.
Furthermore, given its history of program difficulties, “Why would an airline buy an airplane that has not proved anything except flaws in operation? The answer is, I’d be deranged.”
Bregier is nothing if not direct.