Fast 5: ACJ TwoTwenty Test Pilot

Christophe Marchand
Credit: Lee Ann Shay/Aviation Week

Christophe Marchand, an Airbus A220 production test pilot, spoke with BCA editor Lee Ann Shay on Dec. 15. That was the day after the first flight of the Airbus ACJ TwoTwenty, the corporate aircraft version of the A220. The interview took place in the cockpit of an ACJ TwoTwenty at Airbus’ final assembly facility at Montreal-Mirabel International Airport.

How was the flight?

The flight was the completion of a year of work and went very well, but that’s not a surprise. We were very well prepared by the team. It was flawless and there wasn’t anything unexpected. It’s easy to fly.

Does this fly more like an airline aircraft or a corporate aircraft?

It’s not a heavy, sluggish plane. You can maneuver as easily as a little jet. That’s what I remember when we flew it at the Paris Air Show some years ago. I think it flies more like a business jet or even a fighter jet. It’s very responsive to your commands. When we did the first flight in 2013, we were surprised that on takeoff we were almost at our assigned altitude above the airport. These engines (Pratt & Whitney PW1500G) are very, very powerful—especially on a light airplane like this one.

What’s it like to be a test pilot on a new aircraft program? Did you fly that first flight?

I didn’t fly the first flight but did one a few days later, and I flew the first (Bombardier) CS300 up to the first commercial A220 flight. I also did the certification flights, so I’ve been on this program for a while.

It’s very demanding, but it’s a unique opportunity because you have input on the design. Even before it flies, you try to imagine how pilots will react to certain things. And when you do the first commercial flights with an airline and you see the smile on a pilot’s face, that means you did your job properly. 

It must be interesting to follow an aircraft from beginning of design to its flying.

What is interesting is getting the feedback from all of the pilots and operators and you wonder if you missed something, and if you did you try to adjust it as fast as you can. I think that’s what makes it very exciting. Every day is a new day and you discover something, and it’s harder to find solutions for some of the challenges.

What were some changes you helped initiate during the program?

From a switch cover to other things that take engineering, human factors and other specialties. You aren’t working on your own—you’re part of a team, and you’re trying to bring your experience to convince people of an idea. This teamwork is more rewarding than adding this or that. To be part of a group that’s trying to bring new features on a new aircraft--to find the best solution--is what I like most.

Lee Ann Shay

As executive editor of MRO and business aviation, Lee Ann Shay directs Aviation Week's coverage of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), including Inside MRO, and business aviation, including BCA.