The Airbus A220, previously known as the Bombardier CS100, has had some recent successes. Its flight performance at this year’s Farnborough Air Show was superior, and the aircraft is truly beautiful. Last week David Neeleman, the founder and former CEO of JetBlue and now the CEO of Azul Brazilian Airlines, announced a purchase agreement of 60 A220-300 aircraft for use with a new airline that Neeleman intends to launch in the United States. This adds to the 38 aircraft that are already in service at Swiss International, airBaltic, and Korean Air, as well as to the 402 aircraft that are already on order. (Delta has 75 firm orders and options on an additional 50 more.) Late this month, JetBlue ordered 60 A220-300’s for delivery starting in 2020, with an additional 60 options for delivery after 2025. Earlier this year, the U.S. International Trade Commission voted unanimously that Boeing was not harmed in a major trade dispute that could have killed the A220 program entirely. That dispute is now over. In July of this year, the deal closed between Bombardier and Airbus by which Airbus has taken a majority stake on the Bombardier CSeries Program, i.e., the A220. Interestingly, Airbus did not pay anything for its 51% share in the program, and it did not assume any debt.
From a design point of view, the A220 has much going for it. The interior design of the cabin offers several advantages, including a wider aisle and a novel overhead storage bin design. Most importantly the A220 contains a very high percentage of advanced materials (70%) with 40% being composites and 24% aluminum-lithium. The result is a 15% lower seat-mile cost, a 20% lower fuel burn, a 25% reduction in maintenance cost, and a four-fold reduction in the noise footprint. Bombardier claims that the A220-300 is 8 tons lighter than the Boeing 737MAX7. An eye-opener is that the A220-300 has a passenger capacity of 160 and a maximum range of 3,300 nautical miles. Early news releases from David Neeleman indicate that his new airline may operate the A220-300 internationally as well as domestically.
One of the most notable distinctions of the A220 is its short field takeoff capability. Airbus’ web site states: “Powered by Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1500G geared turbofan engines specifically designed for the family, the A220-100 can connect distant airports with its 3,100 nm range and best-in-class airfield performance. Using a takeoff field length as short as 1,220 metres, the A220 Family is ideal for hot-and-high and city-centre airport operations; in fact, the A220-100 and A220-300 are the largest aircraft able to operate in the constrained environment of London City Airport. From such challenging airports, the A220 Family has a built-in advantage.
1,220 meters equates to just over 4000 feet, and London City’s field length is 4900 feet. Coincidentally, the runway length at McClellan-Palomar (Carlsbad CA) is also 4900 feet.
But even with all of these considerable benefits, there are some interesting and perhaps uncomfortable questions about the A220. The aircraft itself has had a difficult gestation, including multiple starts and stops. The first “start” was in 1998, and that effort came to a stop in 2000. The second “start” was in 2004, and that came to a stop in 2006. The current program was re-started in 2007, and this time it was successful, leading to first flight in September 2013. The aircraft first entered service with Swiss International Air Lines in July 2016. It is fair to say that the A220 has had a troubled birth that has been quite costly. Furthermore, these problems continue. They will be discussed in subsequent blogs, specifically about: