When Airbus acquired the CSeries program from Bombardier, the aircraft became known as the A220 series. This narrowbody jetliner is set apart from the European manufacturer’s existing single-aisle A320 family by the fact that it seats five passengers per row, rather than six. Airbus currently produces two A220 variants, but should it build a third, stretched version?
A single-aisle revolution
Since the Airbus A220 entered service in 2016, it has shaken up the single-aisle market. This has been evidenced by its operational performance, which operators found to be better than expected in terms of dispatch times and fuel burn. Passengers and crew have also responded positively to the new aircraft, which has quickly established a strong reputation.
The aircraft has particularly come into its own during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While COVID-19 has heavily impacted various aspects of commercial aviation, the A220 family has fared better than most aircraft. Its lower capacity and higher operational efficiency have made it an ideal aircraft for the short-haul market over the last year.
Is there demand for a larger version?
These factors have rendered the A220 one of very few aircraft that can be considered a ‘winner’ of the pandemic. This has laid the foundations for a bright future for the plane, which some executives are touting as the perfect post-pandemic aircraft for its market. In fact, its popularity among executives has even seen calls for a stretched-fuselage version.
Airbus currently produces two A220 variants: the -100 (100-120 seats across two classes) and the -300 (120-150 seats across two classes). According to the company’s latest orders and deliveries report, the larger -300 is far more popular. It has received 539 orders, of which 99 have been delivered. The smaller -100 has received 90 orders, with 49 deliveries.
The larger model’s increased success begs the question as to whether Airbus should make an even larger version. Last August, the company stated that the development and production of a potential A220-500 is not currently a priority. However, the concept has drawn interest from airBaltic and Air France. As such, there may be a place in the market for such a plane.
Should Airbus build the A220-500?
The interest from airBaltic and Air France makes a compelling business case regarding whether Airbus should produce the A220-500. After all, the Latvian flag carrier is such a fan of the aircraft that it replaced its older Boeing 737s in favor of an all-A220 fleet. Meanwhile, Air France has a sizeable A220 order which will replace its older A318 and A319 models. As such, both would likely also be large enough customers to justify the A220-500’s production.
However, Airbus would also need to consider a potential specification clash with its existing products if it were to stretch the A220 further. After all, the existing A220-300 is very similarly specified in terms of range and capacity to Airbus’s six-abreast A319neo.
The A319neo has generated surprisingly low orders (78, with just three deliveries) compared to other members of the popular A320neo family. One potential reason for this could be the similarity to the A220-300. As such, Airbus may find that, by further stretching the A220, a similar clash may occur with its larger A320neo.
Of course, such a clash may not hurt the A320neo in a similar way to the A319neo. However, it may even go so far back the other way as to threaten the A220-500. After all, while it is a fascinating prospect, the A320neo may be too much of a strongly established product for it to inadvertently go up against. As such, Airbus should only build a stretched A220-500 if it can determine that it and the A320neo will not accidentally threaten each other.
What do you make of the prospect of Airbus building a stretched-fuselage A220-500? Have you flown on one of the A220’s existing variants? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.