Airbus aircraft programs in review

By Bjorn Fehrm in Hamburg

May 31, 2016, ©. Leeham Co: Airbus went through a complete review of all their aircraft programs as part of their yearly briefing for media in Hamburg today. A lot was said regarding the status for the different programs by Airbus CEO Farbice Bregier, its COO customers John Leahy and Executive VP Strategy and Marketing Kiran Rao.


Figure 1. Most recent A350 delivery was to Cathay Pacific. source: Airbus.

The briefing was given against a backdrop of weak orders and deliveries for the first five months of the year. Both Bregier and Leahy said, “This is to be expected, it’s not sustainable that we have Book-to-Bill ratios (orders vs. deliveries) of over 1.5 or even close to two for many consecutive years. We have a backlog of 6,700 aircraft that customers expect us to deliver and they have little appetite to order new aircraft when they can earliest get them by 2021 at the earliest.

“We are now in a period of focus on deliveries and we can expect and be happy with a book to bill ratio of around one for the coming years. The extraordinary backlog also justifies our decision to increase production to 60 units per month for our A320 single aisle program.”

Here follows what was said for each of the programs.

As previously described, the Pratt & Whitney-engined A320neo will resume deliveries with improved engines within the next month, figure 2. The LEAP-1A engine version received its joint FAA and EASA certification during the briefings. Deliveries of first LEAP engine aircraft will start in July.

A320 engine

Figure 2. Pratt & Whitney changes to improve engine start up time and reliability. Source: Airbus

The A320neo program manager Klaus Roewe pointed out that both engines fulfill the Airbus performance specification. It was mentioned that Lufthansa Airlines even sees over-performance on its first GTF-powered A320neo with fuel burn being around 16.5% lower than an A320ceo on typical short haul missions.

Officials were dismissive of the prospect of a Boeing 737-10, which Leahy dubbed the “Mad MAX.” The airplane would require a larger engine. Reuters reported Boeing is considering the LEAP-1A used on the A320neo rather than the smaller LEAP-1B. This is a different engine, removing commonality between the two. To accommodate the LEAP-1A, major structural changes would be required for the MAX 10, also reducing commonality to the rest of the MAX family.

Airbus can do an “A322,” a stretched version of the A321neo with a new wing, but at this stage doesn’t see the need to do so.

The A330neo development is on track with first aircraft to TAP in Portugal entering final Assembly Line in Toulouse “within a couple of months”, Figure 3. Delivery is targeted for December 2017.


Figure 3. Production of A330neo is in full swing. Source: Airbus.

The aircraft has a new interior since the program was launched at Farnborough 2014. It is modeled after the A350 cabin and the joint marketing name for this cabin style is now “Airspace.” Initially it was said that only bins and lighting would get changed to the A350 style, but now all parts will be in A350 standard, including monuments, galleys, toilets, ceilings, lighting etc.

Airbus is studying a 245 tonne A330-900, which would add about 300nm to the range and bring it closer to the range of the Boeing 787-9 with which it competes. Alternatively, the 245t -900 could have three tonnes more cargo payload.

The aircraft is proving to be more flexible than originally planned. This has allowed the creation of the 9.700nm A350-900ULR, which beat Boeing’s 777-8 at Singapore Airlines to fulfill the requirement to fly the 19 hours Singapore-New York and a bit shorter Singapore-Los Angeles missions.


Figure 4. A350-900 improvements. Source: Airbus

The 280t Max takeoff weight will be a standard weight variant from 2020 and a A350-900ULR can be de-papered to a standard A350-900 or even a regional A350-900, all to save engine maintenance costs and en route and landing fees, Figure 4.

The A350-1000 first aircraft is now in outside Radio and Fuel system tests (Station 18) and will fly in September, Figure 5. First delivery of the aircraft is foreseen for 4Q2017. Airbus can already see that the aircraft will fulfill its performance guarantees.


Figure 5. A350-1000 time plan. Source: Airbus.

A longer version what would compete with a 777-9 has also been defined. It can keep the wing and engines with minor modifications paired with a longer fuselage. Feedback from the airlines has not yet convinced Airbus that the market is large enough to justify the variant, which was called -2000 by Leahy. Bregier concluded, “We are ready to develop the version as soon as we see market for it. We now know we can develop it with a relatively small effort. Should airlines approach us with clear demand for the version, we can develop and get it to market relatively quickly. Right now the main market seems to be in the present 777-300ER size segment and there we have an aircraft in the -1000 which takes off 30 tonnes lighter for a typical mission and therefore is considerably more efficient.”

The question of an A380neo came up and was immediately answered. “With the cabin density improvements we have done, the aircraft is the most efficient aircraft flying today,” said Leahy. “We therefore don”t see an immediate need for a neo version. But this aircraft will live on for another 30 to 40 years, so it’s clear, there will be an version with new engines. We will see when there is a need to do that.”

The improvements in the cabin is continuing and the latest changes are an elimination of the sidewall stowage areas on the top floor giving an additional 10 seats in the aircraft, Figure 6.


Figure 6. A380 cabin changes to improve the seat density. Source: Airbus.

45 Comments on “Airbus aircraft programs in review

  1. Well starting at the bottom its a waffle on the A380

    Agreed that the backlog is insane and not sustainable but they would say the same thing if it was not.

    Nothing about how many aircraft will be delivered this year I can see

  2. Bjorn:

    Is that a typo or is the LA to Singapore almost as long as the Singapore Nye York run?

    I know we are getting into great circle routes and all but ……

  3. A380 upper deck sidewall stowage removal? Nooooooo! That’ll kill my joy of the super jumbo. Personally I couldn’t wait for Premium Economy on the ME3 A380s. But if they go 9abreast on the upper deck then forget it.

      • Emirates A380 in Y is impressive. I managed to sit on first row aisle seat. Amazing legroom and those EA engines were whisper quiet. Further back not so sure, and definitely would avoid if they went 11 abeast. Their newer stock with the the repositioned toilets at the front of the plane are a work of genius.

    • The graphic doesnt show premium economy 9 across on upper deck

      • Yes that is true. But not sure BA et al would reconfigure their 380s and move the Y+ to the front of the lower deck like Lufthansa has done.

        • BA has its First class in front of plane but there is nothing to stop them reducing the numbers and putting them upstairs like Lufthansa.
          BA has larger business class than Lufthansa 97 vs 78 so that makes more likely they will remain on main deck. Premium economy is about same size in both.

          • BA like their First. Their customers like their First. I see no reduction of First nor a move to the upper deck. The Captains don’t want to be climbing up the stairs of the A380 everytime they want to check on their kids sitting in First on a free trip. Allegedly. Also try getting an Avios First Class return to LHR-LAX. Impossible. Daily checks year out in advance for the past month. Zero thus far. I shan’t be defeated

    • Removing storage and adding seats is never a winning formula for the cattle car class.

  4. “We are now in a period of focus on deliveries ”

    LOL Sure I guess Leahy is going to roll up his sleeves and get busy on the factory floor. Seriously do execs ever think about how silly they sound when they blow smoke like this?

    • Exactly what is wrong with what he said? Airbus is going to be focusing on successfully ramping up the deliveries of the A320neo family, the A350 family and the A330neo. They’re starting to exit the past few years of development and flight testing and transitioning to the delivering – literally – on their promises.

      With no brand new programs and associated development on the way plus an anticipated lull in the mega orders of previous years, it is 100% logical that their primary focus will be on production refinement and delivery.

  5. Quite an achievement if the issues mentioned here and others Airbus has are overcome without impacting on this and next years planned deliveries. The A380 cabin changes are insufficient to generate sales and a more radical makeover is required to keep the production line running at sensible rates

  6. “The A380 cabin changes are insufficient to generate sales and a more radical makeover is required to keep the production line running at sensible rates”

    It still has the best selling point of all: no competition. Existing users (BA, SQ) want more, Iran is waiting, Saudia looking and..

    They are flying them with 615 seats now vs 525, some cabin efficiency “improvements” & we have 650 seats. Add slightly PIP’ed RR engines and we have a 10% CASM / efficiency boost to miss-use in PR..

  7. BA has ordered more? That’s news I had not read anywhere.

    SQ, hmmm , 5 slated for 2018 to 2019 (plenty of time to kick those down the road if things are going the way they want )

    Iran? Oh come on,

    Saudi kicking tires?

    • “BA has ordered more? That’s news I had not read anywhere.”

      My neither. But they are shopping for them. BA never ordered used aircraft over the last 50 years, but everyone is 100% free to believe they are considering so.

      I remember 80% of the public believing BA would never order the A380. Cold day in Hell material, supported by CEO quotes and all.

      Negotiating tactic when you really have no choice: deny you need it anyway (like DL, ANA, CX, UA, …) You’ll keep old ones longer, change strategy, postpone 5yrs .. until the “surprise”: “Ok, w’ll sign this week, if you give xx% discount”. Flabbergasted faces, panic calls outside.. been there, fond memories 🙂

      • Its not a ‘buy’ for more A380s for British Airways ( or its IAG partners) it was specifically a possible ‘lease’.
        Leasing is a major option for nowdays for airlines that have large fleets of planes they have previously only bought.
        If the routes require it then leasing is fine.

        • 5 of BA’s 747-400s are now 26 years old, many more 20 years and older, 39 in total. They have ordered 18 A350/1000 to be delivered in 2018, but replacing the 747 with A350’s only would mean a loss of passenger capacity at the slot restrained Heathrow airport.
          In case of a Brexit that might still be a good plan, but I am sure they want to at least maintain their capacity, so they will need more A380 soon, somewhere between 10 or 15 over the next 10 years.
          There are some other airlines that I think are gambling to snatch up some A380’s cheap, so in the end demand for used ones could be higher than supply. Time will tell.

  8. The Ultrafan might reduce fuel burn by something like 25% against the Trent 900, and although the fan will probably be a bit larger, the engine might even be lighter, because of the smaller number of stages, spools and bearings plus the carbon blades of the fan, which will save more than the weight of the gear ads. (CFRP nacelle too)
    Only with the new engine the A380 the A380 will fly any usefull distance. But, by that time they might throw in some more CFRP’s to shave off a couple tons of empty weight and ad a few frames to increase Pax capacity by some 10% or so.
    IMHO those updates will bring the A380 to its true potential, similar to maybe the development of the 747-400.
    It’s really only a question of timing now, as the timeline in development of the Ultrafan is still rather open. Maybe around 2025? I have no doubt that Airbus will happily wait with the update until that engine is available, and they will surely be prepared to reduce annual production in the meantime. They are smart enough to sacrifice some sales today to have a real winner later.

  9. “Only with the new engine the A380 the A380 will fly any usefull distance”

    even further than the 8000nm+ routes they fly today?

    • Ups, what I meant to say was that with the new engines even the longest routes can be served efficiently. Even with 600+ Pax and a full cargo hold. And probably even with a stretched version. You would still have to fill all the seats, so it is probably not the most important point anyway…

    • RE A350-1100

      “Bregier concluded, “We are ready to develop the version as soon as we see market for it. We now know we can develop it with a relatively small effort. Should airlines approach us with clear demand for the version, we can develop and get it to market relatively quickly.”

      Interestingly big A350/777X customer Cathay is now asking Airbus for an A350 that is both larger and flies further with cargo (MIA, 8000NM). It seems for Airbus more range OR more capacity is a relatively small effort. BOTH is a very different story..

      IMO Cathay is pushing an A351 LR that’s still 25t lighter vs 777-8/9..

  10. When the industry wakes up to or is forced by governments (by say a $1-2 per gallon fuel tax) or public pressure to wake up to the perils of climate change and the necessity to substantially reduce global fleet carbon emissions, there are some new “light weight half range” opportunities to consider. Airbus is well positioned.

    1) Reoptimize an A380 model for say 4000 nm. with new smaller composite wing and wingbox, small RR ultrafan of 60,000 # thrust or maybe less, smaller tail, lighter landing gear, reduced fuselage structural weight, maybe optimize for .8 mach cruise. Carry around 750 passengers in comfortable single class seating. Unmatched fuel economy per seat mile across the N. Atlantic and other high density routes. Even transcon USA, W. coast to Hawaii, Tokyo to Hawaii etc.

    2) Instead of an A350-1100 to split the 777-9X market, reoptimize a model for high density 4000 nm markets with new smaller area composite wing, new smaller thrust, higher bypass engine, etc, carrying 500-550 passengers in comfortable single class — say new slimline seats at 31 ” pitch

    3) How about an A321 neo SR optimized for 2000 nm at .72 mach, carrying around 220 passengers in comfortable single class seats.

    4) Better still, an all new lightweight domestic shorthaul for 2025 service and most sales in the 2030’s-’40’s. Optimize for 2000 nm at .72 mach. Carry 260 passengers in single class; growth to 300. Probably twin aisle composite fuselage. New bypass 15-20 engines. Not a high risk airplane; no new inventions required. This airplane would save more fossil fuel and tons of carbon generated in global fleets over its production lifetime than any other. h

    • Aviation is such a small proportion of overall fuel use, there is little gain by reducing demand by pricing outside normal market levels. The engine makers are doing a great job making big strides is reducing fuel consumption and newer lighter planes are helping too.
      Your above suggestions dont make sense, an A380 can fly 4000nm anyway, it just doesnt have to put fuel in the wing box. As allways the fuel is the main cargo of any plane.

      • dukeofurl

        The problem is that forecast air traffic growth rates overwhelm expected airplane fuel burned savings over the next 20 years. Carbon emissions could double with current business practices of old aircraft retirement, premium class space etc. That’s not going to be allowed.

        I expect that good studies of my ” lighter weight half range derivatives”, say the A350-1000X as I described it, would have 15% less fuel burned and carbon generated than the A350-1000 with a partial fuel load and same payload flying 4000 nm or less. The number of intercontinental passengers flying 3000-4000 nm in the period 2025-2045 will be many times more than flying 7000-10,000 nm. Designers should check out the billions of tons of CO2 emission savings which could come from more optimized intercontinental aircraft derivatives

    • Jim,

      agree we should underestimate pollution by aircraft. It is a significant percentage and pollution put in the wrong place: 35k ft..

      Engines get about 20% cleaner / more efficient every generation. A generation takes about 20 years to surface. So the enhancement is about 1% per year on avrage.

      What we don’t want to know/see is air traffic grows 4-5% per year! So the billions spend on developing cleaner engines leads to pollution growing 3-4% per year instead of 4-5% per year. It only slows the aviation pollution growth.

      Time again to tell ourselves we can’t change & look the other way. Industry practice. I think the free market economy proves the worst possible mechanism to stop us polluting our future environment. Reality hurts.

      Agree with you dedicated short haul bigger capacity aircraft are the way forward. Optimized for no more then 1500-2000Nm that is the bulk of flights. I’ve been pushing a combined 797 NSA/NMA for some time. Here’s the shorthaul version I haven’t published before.

      Low OEW, fast (de)boarding, large carry-on capacity and NMA commonality should set it apart from the successful A320 series.

      • Keesje

        Thanks for your proposed 797 info. We are still not quite on the same frequency. Your size is 150-220 comfortable single class — not much larger than the 737-8 MAX to A321 neo LR which would be around 180 to 220 with 31 “pitch slim line seats (favored by Bjorn, which feel like 32” pitch)

        My DSH is a much higher capacity 260 with later growth to 300; that’s for a lot more fuel and carbon savings per seat mile under 2000 nm range (and best economics too) — a new class for 2026-2046 . Carbon reduction will require this short haul capacity; trade some reduction in flight frequencies on many hundreds of domestic high density routes for more carbon reduction. I believe it’s a two aisle aircraft with a composite fuselage. I also emphasize that cruise speed should be .72 mach , not .78-.8 mach, for another ~8% savings in fuel burned

        • Years ago I looked at a high density, short haul, twin aisle “standing seat” , counterrotating open rotor (CROR) concept, ECR-20 . Henry Lam (kaktus digital) did some great graphics. If you google ECR-20 aircraft graphics pop up.

          The last rows conventional seats for “eldery & disabled” were not widely celebrated 🙂

          • Keesje,

            I Googled your 2011 ECR-220 concept. It’s 40 seats too small for a fuel saving market beyond 2025. As to its high wing with counter rotating open rotors about 16 ft in diameter, what year for initial service? European companies would say around 2030– and they favor rear mounted propulsors and low wing. And apparently around 180 passengers.

            We need the DSH in service ASAP. By 2025 commercial airlines will be emitting a billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. My DSH should beat A 320 neo, 737-8 MAX, C919, MS-21 by 40-50 % in fuel burned per seat mile under 2000 nm. What would be your favorite 2016 short haul concept for fuel savings in a carbon fraught era.

          • Hi Jim,

            70-75% of all passengers is for tourism. We have to cut back on the fun part. Stay around your own place. That should reduce emissions 40-50%. 😐

            Speedtrains are an enormous investment, but work. Centralized countries like China and France took the lead. They did non-idealistic calculations (oil is gone in 50 years, go nuclear to protect our environment, forget the PR sun/windmills) and had the power / resources to overrule and implement. What the new, undemocratic rich China rolled out over the last 15 years is the more mind boggling.

            Forair traffic is required, fly slow, make fuel stops, avoid cargo, use noisy big props, get rid of sleeper seats, up the prices, reduce frequencies, add taxes, regulations. All the stuff us and the IATA hate basically.

  11. I think United Airlines is pulling strings in the background of the 737MAX-9/10X / NMA/NSA discussions. They are the biggest MAX-9 customer with a large ~urgent MoM requirement.

    United can pull the plug on the -9 program if they feel it’s no longer the best idea for them. Boeing is kind of saying so (-10X) & has to stay friends anyway.

    United have to protect their investments / future fleet value. John Leahy never sits on his hands / no doubt offers them A321 CEO/NEO slots. All UA’s competitors are taking deliveries as we speak for TransCon.

  12. keesje,

    To continue our 6/2 dialogue:

    In an age of climate change peril many people and businesses will alter their travel habits: Reduce Flying or Fly Not So Far or Just Not Fly. The way to minimize this response is for the airlines to be seen by the public and governments as helping to meet or beat National Goals for carbon reduction (ref. the Paris accords of 196 nations), i.e., playing a role in helping to solve the problem in creative ways.

    There are creative ways that do not depend on new technology. The easiest and most practical is to eliminate premium class in single aisle aircraft and especially in twin aisle, wide body aircraft. The US could decide in 2017 to only allow air transports to take off or land in the US beyond 2022 which have single class “green” seating — say 31-32″ pitch. The EU and China might agree and require the same. That’s “instant” capacity; fewer frequencies and somewhat less passenger convenience (less than the current 20+ flights per day from Boston to Chicago and less than 2500 airplanes flying the N Atlantic daily), but much less fuel burned and tons of CO2 generated. In the available wide body 767, 777, 787, A330, A350, A380 families from 50 to 100 more seats would be added.

    If the industry were to ask itself what new next aircraft would save the most fuel and carbon emissions in global fleets before 2050, can we agree that would be a new large domestic aircraft?

    Launch it in 2018 with service in 2025. Low risk; known technology. Since climate change is a function of cumulative emissions, 2025 service is better than waiting post-2030 for more technology. I think we could agree on a range 1500- 2000 nm, a cruise speed of around .72 mach, only single “green class” reasonably comfortable seating, and little or no commercial cargo.

    But can we agree on capacity, number of aisles and propulsion. I say 260 passengers with growth to 300 — a new class — not merely 220 like an A321 neo LR with 31-32 ” pitch seating. I say two aisles , not one wider one. I say bypass 15-20 engines available 2025, not counterrotating/variable pitch/ thrust reversing propfans 16′ in diameter available post 2030.

    Are Boeing and Airbus asleep or do they have “secret teams” hard at work? Are they aiming at 40-50% lower fuel burned and carbon generated per set mile below 2000 nm than 737-8MAX, A320 neo, C919, MS-21? Are they fixated on including a 180 pax model to try to keep a CS-600+ with ~170+ single green class seats from being successful?

      • Keesje

        Yes, that’s a particlarly egregious example: I had checked s number of wide body premium class layouts in seat guru and found many planes could carry 100 more passengers in decent single class.

        More of my opinions on the subject:

        Airlines prohibit passengers from smoking tobacco on airplanes because smoke pollution is harmful to others on the plane. Medical science says so — and after some years, public pressure produced its prohibition in public places.

        Likewise, airlines should not offer passengers the opportunity to pay a premium to travel in the extra comfort of first class, business class, and economy-plus class spaces because the average carbon pollution per person for each trip is higher than if the airplane were carrying six to over one hundred more passengers in single “green class”. Carbon dioxide pollution is harmful to everyone on the planet. Climate science says so. After a few more years, public pressure will produce prohibition of premium classes on planes; I believe you can be certain of that. Its far worse than smoke pollution.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to see the US and China, maybe the EU too, require single class with say 31-32″ pitch on all passenger planes landing and taking off in their countries — phased in by say 2020-2022. The President could do it by Executive Action. Other countries would quickly follow.

        In effect, on average it would be equivalent to neo-ing the whole fleet at tiny cost and risk. It’s fair to all passengers and to all airlines. It would be a powerful symbolic leadership step and very effective too, saving billions of tons of cumulative CO2 emissions from 2020 to 2050

  13. CO2 emissions are going to keep growing and massive climate change will happen especially with the melting of the permafrost. Anyone who thinks people on average (worldwide) will deny themselves the benefits of fossil fuels is living in a green hazed dream. With luck we will leave some of the coal in the ground but all the (economically) recoverable oil and gas will be used and toward the end of that will come the big adjustment, likely including substantial die back of human population (especially the poor). This, latter, may start in earnest earlier due to ag failures from climate change. We are likely in the early stages of the sixth (known) great extinction. Life will of course endure likely including humans and our descendants. We are uniquely clever animals but the idea that we will act “rationally” regarding climate change is a very long odds bet.

    Lets make aircraft more efficient by all means or better yet stay home, ride your bike and tend your garden. BTW I really like airplanes they’re just not likely forever.

    One mid term hope for limiting the damage is adding sun blocking compounds to the upper atmosphere (like a large volcano does). My bet would be that China initiates this if it is not a multi-national action. Seriously, except for France (among the rich countries) and its nuclear-electric driven economy all that has been done re. limiting emissions amounts to talk and dreams

    • Dan F
      Don’t give up. Countries, companies, and individuals can take thousands of actions to avoid disastrous climate change (and sun blocking in unlikely to be one of them). Collectively, we won’t burn up all the fossil fuel which is in the ground — the resulting ~12 degree C, or whatever, would be like mass suicide

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