May 31, 2021, © Leeham News: It’s not as if Boeing doesn’t have enough challenges right now.
Airbus seems ready to up the ante by re-winging the A320 series, according to an article last week by Bloomberg News.
The “Wing for Tomorrow,” as Airbus calls it, has been in the works for years. It’s a composite wing, designed for a new production process. The process will be quicker, more efficient and less costly than the cumbersome, expensive autoclave used today.
Public discussion about an enlarged A321 has been around for years. Variously called the A321 Plus Plus or A322, the broad concept is a 12 seat stretch (Bloomberg suggests it could be 24 seats), more powerful engines and the new composite wing. Bloomberg wrote that the wing, with a wider span, could have folding wingtips.
This A322 would be a true Boeing 757 in terms of capacity. Range would be well into the “Middle of the Market” definition proffered by Boeing for the better part of a decade.
But what about the A320 and A319?
One can probably write off any further development of the A319neo. The A220-300’s range will be enhanced to 4,000nm, if you believe Breeze Airlines founder David Neeleman. Breeze has 80 A220-300s on order. The range extension takes the airplane past the A319neo, a slow-selling model that for the most part has outlived its usefulness in the A320 product lineup.
Bombardier, designer of the A220 when it was the C Series, didn’t stop with the CS 100/A220-100 or CS 300/A220-300. It designed a CS 500, now known as the A220-500. Airbus can launch this any time it’s ready. The -500 could compete directly with the A320neo (and Boeing 737-8). The -500 is widely believed to have markedly better economics than either the A320neo or 737-8. It would be a 737-8 killer. But it would also kill the A320neo.
So, the Wing of Tomorrow attached to a stretched A320 with 12 or more passengers than the current version would give new life to the A320. In Aviation Geekdom, this concept has been discussed for years. It’s colloquially called the A320.5.
Last week, LNA discussed Boeing’s dilemma for the 125-170 seat single-aisle market. Although the A322 gets the headlines, the hidden story always was the A320.5 and its potential impact on Boeing’s cash cow, the 737-8.
If Airbus launches the A320.5, Boeing’s hand will be forced to respond, unless the C Suite is content to see Boeing descend into McDonnell Douglas irrelevance.
As last week’s article noted, Boeing is faced with exactly what the C Suite doesn’t want: the need to do two concurrent new airplane programs. There’s really no choice if executives want to regain its premier place in commercial aviation.