On Thursday, June 22, the fourth day of the Paris Air Show, our team had the opportunity to attend an exclusive, invitation-only event held by Airbus. Known as the “Blogger’s Day,” AirlineGeeks.com’s European Lead, James Dinsdale, was joined by eight other attendees for the event which included guided tours of the next generation A321neo, A350-1000, and the A380. This is his look into what Airbus has planned for the future.
I arrived at the Airbus Pavilion situated just behind the manufacturer’s static display fleet. The aircraft on display at the time included the A321neo, A350-1000, A400M, Eurofighter Typhoon, the C295 as well as a few others.
The Pavilion was busy, with many delegates and people wearing military attire walking around looking important, definitely making us feel out of place while we waited for someone to collect us. Soon after, Anthony Rosendo, Airbus’ Corporate Communication & Social Media Manager, and Borna Vrdoljak, Airbus’s Corporate Marketing Messaging, arrived and greeted us all.
Once we were issued our passes, we stepped back outside and into the heat. It was 10:30 a.m. and the temperature was already 28°C, so I was glad not to be one of the unlucky men and women walking around in their military kit.
Walking towards the A321neo, there was a crowd surrounding a man and taking photos, unbeknown to me at the time, I was told it was Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, who just returned from spending six months onboard the International Space Station.
The first tour was onboard the A321neo. The aircraft, D-AVXB, is an A321-251N(WL) test aircraft that was rolled out of Hamburg in 2016 before moving to Toulouse for test flights. The aircraft was on display during the morning, allowing us and other groups to visit, before it conducted its air display later in the afternoon. Once this aircraft has finished testing, it will be reconfigured and sold to a customer.
The type entered commercial service for the first time in May 2017 with Virgin America, the first of five to be delivered before the end of the year to the North American-carrier, who will end up with 10 of the type by the end of 2018. In total, Airbus has an order backlog of 1,416 A321neos.
The cabin inside was in its stripped down configuration, with miles of cables visible running up and down the length of the cabin above our heads. Massive water ballasts installed allows the manufacturer to easily add weight to the aircraft when needed to various weight tests. The flight deck onboard this aircraft has the resemblance of the A321ceo allowing the customer airline’s crew to ‘jump in and fly’ without the need for any additional system training.
We were able to see what the flight engineers, situated towards the rear of the cabin, see while undergoing the flight tests. Screens projecting aircraft systems and information are visible, allowing an extra pair of eyes outside of the cockpit to monitor the flight progress. There is also an Audio Control Panel (ACP) allowing the engineer to listen in to ATC communication, cockpit communication and also speak to the crew themselves.
The engines equipped on this aircraft were the CFM LEAP-1A power plant. The 1A model is available to all of the Airbus A320neo family, just as is the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines. These engines have a thrust range from 24,000-35,000lb of thrust, more thrust than the CFM56 that currently power the A320ceo family. Its fan diameter is 78 inches, compared to the 68 on the CFM56.
Just a short walk from the A321neo was the A350, the wings separated by only a few meters. We had an opportunity to walk around beneath the aircraft, engines, and gear, before making our way to the rear steps where we boarded the aircraft. Once inside, we looked around the rear galley, which was very spacious and had lots of storage for food and drinks for the nearly 360 passengers that airlines will be able to accommodate. In total, Airbus has 211 orders for the A350-1000 and 851 in total for the A350 program. Emirates once had an order for 50 A350-900s and 20 A350-1000s before canceling it, causing the biggest order loss in Airbus history.
The engines themselves are made by Rolls-Royce, with the Trent XWB engines being specifically designed for the A350 program. The Trent XWB-97 can deliver 97,000lbs of takeoff thrust, weighing 7.2 tonS each and a fan diameter of 118 in. They are the most powerful engines equipped on an Airbus.
Situated at the rear of the cabin next to the galley is a crew rest bunker, with near vertical steps leading us into an area above passenger seating where up to 6 crew members can rest at any one time. Each bunker equipped with a seat belt, TV screen, power plugs, a light and air conditioning.
Walking through economy class, each seat had its own in-flight screen. Some of the headrests had little red devices on them which are used by Airbus to test the sound and temperatures that the seat is exposed to as well as the air quality, providing useful data back to the engineers.
Making our way to the business class set-up that Airbus installed in the aircraft, we were greeted by experimental test pilot, Hugues van der Stichel. Stichel gave us a briefing on the aircraft as well as discussed the air display he would give later on in the afternoon.
What was interesting was the new design of the overhead bins. Instead of the bin opening down towards the passenger, the bins slide away behind, providing a better use of space and allowing up to 5 bags to be placed inside.
At the front of the aircraft, we were able to visit the flight deck, giving us a quick insight of the front of the aircraft, before being ushered out to allow the test crew to begin preparations for the air display.
Upon finishing our tour of the A350, we were lucky enough to be given access to the A380 that was on display featuring the new a380plus winglets. Being driven in golf buggies, we went behind the fenceline and entered the aircraft where we were greeted by Roland Naudy, Aircraft Interiors Marketing Director for the A380, and Arnaud Demeusois, the A320 Marketing Director.
Talking to us about the new features that will come with the new variant, which was formally launched at this year’s Paris Air Show, the pair told us how the enhanced version will see 13 percent lower costs per seat. The biggest changes include the modification of the winglet, which now feature a split-scimitar design at 4.7 meters in height, contributing to a 4 percent reduction in fuel burn.
As seen on MSN04, the manufacturer has installed winglet mockups for display purposes and are waiting for the first ones to be built following the selection of suppliers. The redesign of the staircases allows for an additional 80 seats to be installed without “compromising comfort,” raising the seat count to 570. Its Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) has increased as well by 3 tons to 578 tons, boosting the range by 300 nm or allowing to carry the increased seating over the same 8,200 nm range.
The manufacturer is also showing off the potential for an 11-abreast economy configuration on the lower deck. Thanks to the redesign of the armrest, narrowing the aisle and moving the seat row closer to the sidewall creates the extra capacity. In total, Airbus anticipates airlines will see an extra $12 million in revenue per aircraft for the extra seats.
At the moment it is understood that the new winglet design will not be retrofittable, however, Airbus is expected to look into this option at a later time. The aircraft is expected to be operational beginning in 2020 with the manufacturer already holding “advanced talks” with a number of customers for potential orders.
The event was nicely rounded off with drinks and food provided inside the Pavilion, while air displays showing all three aircraft as well as the 737 MAX and military aircraft took place. AirlineGeeks would like to thank Anthony and the Airbus Social Media team for the invitation to attend a great event at the Paris Air Show 2017.
Editor’s Note: View AirlineGeeks’ full Paris Air Show coverage here
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