is accelerating fielding plans for the New Engine Option (NEO) and also has named the Pratt & Whitney as the lead-engine for the program.
The new fielding plan would see the A320NEO enter service in October 2015, rather than in 2016, says John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer for customers. In-service dates for the A319—now moved ahead of the A321—is six months later, followed six months after that by the A321.
The launch operator for the NEO has still to be named.
The accelerated in-service date effort will involve buying some duplicative tooling to give Airbus production flexibility, says Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice president for programs. Keeping program changes to a minimum and relying largely on the existing supply chain is intended to help with program speed. Wing jigs will be identical across the production program for exiting A320s, those with winglets, and those for the NEO.
Airbus has more than 330 commitments for the aircraft, with Leahy saying further deals out of Latin America, Europe, and Asia are pending. “I am quite comfortable that by the [Paris] air show we will be in excess of 500 orders,” he adds. Leahy projects that out to 2030, the NEO will capture at least another 6,000 orders, effectively doubling the production run of the A320.
Airbus also has determined it could more quickly implement the change over to producing only NEOs. That decision has not been taken, however, and will depend on customer uptake, Leahy says. However, if such a move happens, all Airbus narrowbody production could shift entirely to NEOs by 2018. However, Leahy says he expects current A320s to be delivered out to 2020-2022 because customers are not being forced to go to the new engine offering.
What is more, with three customers having opted for the Pratt & Whitney engine—Indigo,, and International Lease Finance Corp.—and none so far for the rival , Airbus also has decided to make the PW1100G the lead engine in the development and certification program.
The entry into service date for a CFM International Leap-X fitted NEO has not been set. Leahy indicates it could follow 9-12 months later.
The fact no NEO customer has selected Leap-X is not a concern right now, Leahy says. “I would not count CFM out.” He noted that Pratt & Whitney’s early success merely suggests the engine maker “was a little bit hungrier at the very beginning,” but that long-term “they will basically split the market.”
One of the issues for Airbus now is to derisk the program, Williams says. The only really new hardware is the pylon, he notes. The outboard wing is being strengthened for the winglets—being introduced already in 2012—and the inner wing for the engines. Most of the other changes relate to software and upgrades to the flight control computer to handle the new engines.
Around 900 engineers will be working on the project, using largely proven tools, although Williams says some experience fromengine development management work will be used on the NEO.
Engine and nacelle makers are working with Airbus on an integrated design plateau to help define the pylon, which Airbus is developing. Williams says the integrated effort could yield performance improvements beyond what has already been booked.
Initial NEO production will begin in Hamburg, but any of the A320 production lines could handle NEOs and current standard aircraft. There is no commitment, yet, on building NEOs at this Tianjin assembly site in China.
Williams adds that the winglet development team is making “very good progress,” with advances “much better than we had anticipated.” The first winglet-related wingbox changes are being introduced already this year, with the goal of having aircraft in build in 2012 that could allow a swap from wing fences to winglets once the certification program is planned. An aggressive production ramp-up is planned, but will depend on customer demand.
A weight reduction program is ongoing in parallel to help assure customers of existing A320s do not suffer a weight penalty even if the additional structure is introduced. It is to generate around 200 kg of weight savings (of which 10 kg are already secured), says A320 family chief engineer Wolfgang Engler. At aircraft level, the winglet changes will add about 200 kg. The NEO airframe changes add about 300 kg.; at system level, the NEO has around 1.8 metric ton greater weight than an existing A320.
The NEO flight test program will include eight aircraft, two A320 each with PW110Gs and Leap-X, two A319s and two A321s. Airbus has also offered one if its aircraft for engine flight testing, although that decision has not been taken, yet.
Leahy also says Airbus continues to examine a further production ramp-up on single-aisle beyond the 40 aircraft per month now on the books. Excursions of 42-44 aircraft are being looked at to take effect around 2013.