The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the failings of some plane types while shining a light on the advantages of others. With passenger flights down 81%, the mass grounding of big, inefficient jets has been commonplace. However, for one plane type, more than half the worldwide fleet has remained operational, even through the worst of the crisis. This type is the Airbus A220.
The A220 has shone during the crisis
The popularity of the Airbus A220 has shaken up the world of the narrowbody jet. Since acquiring and rebranding the Bombardier product in 2018, the orders for the type have continued to roll in. From Delta’s massive 95 plane order to Air Austral’s modest booking for three, it seems airlines are keen to make use of the small aircraft for a variety of short- to medium-haul routes.
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, there have been clear winners and losers. Big, lumbering quad-jets like the A380 were the first to be grounded, with many looking unlikely to ever return to passenger service again. The A220, on the other hand, has largely remained ungrounded; in fact, around half was tracked by Cirium as still being in service last week.
A review of Delta’s fleet activity at the end of April by Forbes showed that every single one of its 31 A220-100s were still in use by the airline. The second-largest operator, SWISS, is planning to resume 140 weekly flights from Zurich and 40 from Geneva next month to destinations in Europe. You can bet that the first aircraft it brings back for these routes will be its 29 A220s.
And then, of course, we have airBaltic, which has taken the challenge of the pandemic as an opportunity to review its fleet strategy. Although it had always planned to become an all-A220 airline, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the retirement of its Dash-8s and 737s, allowing it to resume operations with a leaner, greener, single fleet type.
But why is the A220 doing so well, and what does this say about the pandemic and the future of air travel?
Why the A220 is doing so well
There are a few things to understand about the former Bombardier aircraft to get to grips with its incredible success. Firstly, it’s small and incredibly efficient. That means it can fly about as far as an A320, but with fewer passengers and lower fuel burn. It’s lighter than the A320 and has the most modern generation of engines, making it remarkably cost-effective to operated.
In these uncertain times, flying fewer passengers is a good thing. Being able to do it cheaply is even better. This is clearly demonstrated in the high number that have remained in service even through the worst of the crisis. Although SWISS didn’t operate many flights in May, of those it did, 83% were serviced by the A220, according to Cirium.
The A220 is a clear win for passengers too. Wider seats, bigger windows, and reduced noise onboard all lead to a calmer, more reassuring environment. The large, modern bathrooms and airy cabins give a better sense of space, so while social distancing may not end up being practical, passengers may feel less ‘packed in’ on this gamechanging narrowbody jet.
What does the future hold?
Although the future of the aviation industry hangs in the balance, airlines are still confident on the position of the A220 in their fleets. Air Canada has accelerated the retirement of no less than 79 aircraft but still plans to take its full allocation of A220s this year. JetBlue, too remains committed to taking its first A220 in the second half of the year, and there’s no change to the Air France delivery dates either.
While Airbus hasn’t had any more orders for the type since the start of the crisis, that’s a trend seen across all aircraft types. Airbus remains cautious, committing to sticking with its four aircraft a month production rate but delaying the ramp-up in output until the dust settles. Nevertheless, yesterday it opened its new A220 production facility in Alabama, signaling its confidence in the type and cementing its ability to boost production when the time is right.
Whether the coronavirus crisis turns out to be a catalyst for demand for the narrowbody remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that those operating the type are finding it well suited to the currently turbulent situation.
Have you flown the A220? Do you rate it as a plane? Let us know in the comments.