April 6, 2015: There is a saying in America: keeping up with the Joneses.
This means that if your neighbor buys something, you have to go buy something similar to “keep up.”
In the case of commercial aviation, Keeping Up with the Jones has been an international past time for decades. Boeing developed the 247. Douglas developed the DC-2. Douglas developed the DC-4. Lockheed developed the Constellation. The DC-6 begot an improved Connie which prompted the DC-7 which in turn prompted the 1649 Connie. Boeing developed the 707 and Douglas the DC-8. And so it goes today, with the tit-for-tat between Airbus and Boeing.
So the latest: Boeing 737 Max 200, meet the Airbus “A320 Max 195.”
That gnashing of teeth you hear is coming from Toulouse not only at the characterization but also the label.
Last month Airbus received certification for a 195-passenger configuration for the A320neo. This compares to the 737 Max 200, designed for 200 passengers (but in practice, more likely 194-197).
When I heard of the “A320 Max 195,” thanks to a story by Mary Kirby of Runway Girl Network, my mind boggled. The A320 is shorter than the 737-800/8 and Airbus had to creatively struggle to find a Layout ofPassenger Accommodations (LOPA) to bring seating to 189, using 28-inch pitch and smaller and fewer lavs and galleys. How in the world could Airbus fit another six seats into the airplane?
I could scarcely hide my incredulity when I queried Toulouse.
“Following successful evacuation tests performed in 2014, Airworthiness Authorities have granted us with an enhanced egress rate that applies to the existing forward and aft doors of the whole A320 Family,” an Airbus spokesman said in an email. “This has allowed us, [last] month, to certify the A320 with an envelope of 195 pax, providing us margin for future cabin developments. All the enablers we have today allow us to market up to 189 pax on the A320 but, to answer market needs, we keep looking at innovative ways to add more revenue seats at equivalent comfort standard.
“[The] 195 pax is just a theoretical certified envelope, based on our new overall doors’ rating and on the A320 bearable structural loads constraints,” Airbus said. (Emphasis is theirs.) “This gives us margin for future cabin developments but is not specifically linked to an existing LOPA. [A]ll the enablers we have today allow us to market up to 189 pax on the A320 but we keep looking at innovative ways to add more revenue seats at equivalent comfort standard.”
In this case, Airbus would have to use a 27-inch seat pitch (seat maker Zodiac already has a design).
“Of course, one needs to put everything into perspective,” Airbus continued. “An A320 in a theoretically possible 195 seats layout would be for special ‘high-density’ configurations for airlines who want it for certain markets with certain business models. But obviously if a passenger pays a full-fare mainline ticket he or she would not expect to be sitting at 27inch pitch. On the other hand, if a backpacker just wants to ‘get around’ at the lowest possible cost, then even at 27 inch pitch (in a new-gen-seat 18-inch wide in an A320) that will likely be much more comfortable than the bus or train they subsequently take to their sightseeing tour. In short, nobody is forcing anybody to do anything – it’s just a question of what’s possible to offer customers. And the market – ie you the passenger, at the end of the day – is free to decide what they buy.”
I could see airlines like Ryanair or Spirit Air, neither of which is particularly concerned about what the passenger wants or doesn’t want, presenting what essentially is a take-it-or-leave-it fleet-wide configuration like this. Imagine trying to evacuate a 195-seat A320 (or a 200 seat MAX, for that matter) in 90 seconds. With seat pitch like that, and the growing population of, shall we say, plus-size people, it might take 90 seconds just to get out of the damn seats let alone to the exits.
But Boeing has a 200 seat 737-8. To Keep Up with the Joneses, Airbus now has a 195 seat A320neo.