December 22, 2023, ©. Leeham News: We are discussing the different phases of a new airliner program. After covering the Design, Prototype phase, and Production, we now look at the first deliveries.
After about seven to nine years of development and production preparation, it’s finally time for the first delivery of the new aircraft.
For the airline customer of the new airliner, the design and production phases are not as important as the delivery experience and the ease of operation of the new plane. There is a lot to prepare for the OEM so that an airline customer can benefit from a new aircraft to the maximum.
The planning for the life of an aircraft post delivery starts with Preliminary design, where the procedures for the maintenance of the aircraft kick in. The maintenance program for a new airliner takes a long time to work through. We will cover why in separate articles.
The cabin specialist and the marketing department have also been involved since Preliminary design, giving feedback on cabin design, capabilities, and options lists. As the cabin experience is the main branding vehicle for the airline towards its customers, the passengers, the lighting, and branding means through special seat options, divider wall textures, and color variations are important to an airline.
As delivery comes close, it’s time for training of customer personnel groups such as flight crews and technical specialists. The training department starts the course syllabus work for maintenance training when system configurations and their subsuppliers have been decided, whereas training departments for flight deck and cabin are involved from the definition phase of these areas.
A customer must have several personnel categories trained on the handling and operation of the aircraft. Beyond the obvious Pilots and Cabin attendants, different maintenance specialists must know the aircraft in detail and how to maintain and repair it, what can be done by the airline and what must be outsourced to specialists.
Operational fleet planning and dispatch departments must learn about aircraft performance and any peculiarities around its operational handling. What are the range limits of the aircraft with different load conditions? Is there any special ground handling equipment needed, and how to make sure it’s available at the airports the carrier uses? The last part will become more important as environmental concerns introduce aircraft that require ground charging of propulsion batteries for hybridization of taxing and takeoff, for instance.
After training the personnel well before delivery, the time has come for the delivery procedure.
The OEM has a special team that flies the aircraft before delivery through a detailed test program with many control points. It checks:
Any faults or non-conformities (called squawks) are collected in a list to correct before the customer’s representatives arrive for final inspections and test flights of the aircraft.
When the aircraft is ready for customer delivery procedures, the above test program is essentially repeated with any additional checks the customer has asked for.
The delivery team from the customer consists of both pilots and technical personnel. The technical team has been checking on the production of the aircraft before delivery at regular intervals, both at Pre-FALs and at the FAL (Final Assembly Line).
The customer delivery checks, which normally are done in about a week, depending on found squawks, are the culmination of the technical acceptance of the aircraft that started over a year before the delivery.
Once the delivery inspections and test flights are complete, the actual handover of the ownership of the aircraft to the customer takes place. For certain types, keys are handed over to the entry doors; for others, it is a documents-only procedure where the final part payment of the aircraft takes place (the customer has paid part payments, so-called PDPs (Pre-Delivery-Payments) during the two years of production pre-delivery that represent the value increase of the aircraft.
The PDPs, the deposit from the sale contract, and the final payment constitute the complete payment of the aircraft.
After the closure of the delivery, the aircraft is flown to the customer base for preparation for the operational service. For a new aircraft, it involves a familiarization period of several months as flight and ground crews at different route airports need to get familiar with the new aircraft.