This week, a significant milestone occurred for the global supply chain ecosystem of the new generation Airbus A320 aircraft. The first Airbus A320neo completed its maiden flight at 2:22pm local time yesterday after its two-and-a-half test run flown by Airbus’s experimental test pilots over southern France. The maiden flight comes weeks ahead of prior program expectations. Video and a complete program overview can be viewed via the Airbus web site.
The Neo (new engine option) of the workhorse A320 includes newly designed more fuel-efficient aircraft engines with incremental innovations in aerodynamics and updated cabin features. That aside, the most significant customer feature for the Neo and its promised, more enhanced fuel burning efficiency expected to be upwards of 20 percent more efficient. The A320neo family will consist of A319 and A321 variants as well, the latter offering seating up to 240 passengers. Airbus touts the A320 as the globe’s best-selling single aisle aircraft and thus the program stakes are especially high. To date, the A320neo has garnered 3200 orders involving 60 customers and thus more innovative, stepped-up production cadence will be an important requirement for the end-to-end supply chain.
The aircraft for the maiden voyage was powered by two of the newest Pratt and Whitney PW1100G-JM engines which features that supplier’s new geared-turbofan technology. According to Pratt, the engine successfully completed its first development flight in May of last year and has completed 11,000 hours of testing across the supplier’s PurePower engine family. The stakes for Pratt are additionally high with its newest innovative geared turbofan technology. The Neo is also offered with CFM International’s LEAP-1A power plant as an airline customer option. The LEAP-1B engine was selected as the prime power plant for Boeing’s planned 737 MAX aircraft, which is the prime competitive offering in contrast to the A320neo. According to CFM, there are already orders amounting to 6770 LEAP family engines.
This maiden flight milestone kicks-off 3000 hours of rigorous flight test process involving upwards of eight aircraft with various options and engine options. As Supply Chain Matters has noted in many prior aerospace industry highlighted commentaries, many things can be discovered in the flight testing process, some with reverberations up and down the supply chain. The A320neo with Pratt engines is currently planned to enter service in the fourth quarter of 2015, with the first airline customer being Qatar Airways.