With narrowbody aircraft already comfortably undertaking medium-haul missions, it’s only a matter of time before these small, efficient jets begin branching out into true long haul ops too. Aside of the 737 MAX and the A321XLR, there’s one other aircraft that seems to have all the necessaries to become a true long hauler – the A220. But will it ever go transatlantic?
Not so much a question of ‘could’ but ‘would’
Back in January, we speculated that the A220 had the capabilities to fly transatlantic. Having been granted the 180 minute extended ETOPS, London to New York suddenly became a possibility for the aircraft, something Airbus were keen to point out.
Then, in May this year, Airbus announced a boost to the MTOW of the A220-100, 5,000lb in total. This would enable more fuel to be carried, leading to a bump in range to the tune of around 500 miles. This took the operating range of the A220-100 to 3,900 miles, and of the larger A220-300 to 3,850 miles.
The combination of the ETOPS and extension to the range makes the A220 more than capable of doing the flight. In fact, it opened up a whole raft of potential destinations, far greater than just New York to London. The question is, would anyone want to fly it?
How far is too far?
Right now, the longest flight records on an A220 are held by Swiss for the A220-100, and by airBaltic for the A220-300. Swiss cover 1,314 miles in 3 hours and 50 minutes between Moscow and Geneva. airBaltic’s 2,359-mile marathon stretches from Riga to Abu Dhabi and is scheduled at 5 hours and 50 minutes.
If, for instance, JetBlue did indeed launch transatlantic flights using the A220, perhaps from its base at New York JFK to one of the London airports, this would take in around 2,999 nautical miles of great circle distance. That’s approximately 27% longer than the current longest flight, so applying some beer mat math to this would put the flight time to just under seven and a half hours.
That’s a long time on a narrowbody by anyone’s standards, but with the A321XLR on the horizon, it’s something we’d better all start getting used to. Plenty of airlines already do cross the pond in narrowbody aircraft, including Air Canada with an A319, WestJet’s 737 and all the legacy US carriers with their Boeing 757s, if they count. Needless to say, if the 737 MAX was in service, we’d probably be able to list a whole load more airlines too (looking at you, Norwegian).
Compared to some of the alternatives on the table, the A220 shapes up to be a relatively comfortable way to travel. Sure, it’s no widebody, but the cabin limitations means you’ll always be in a 2-3 layout; there is simply no room to squeeze in another seat. As such, many have said that the legroom and width is better than on a 737. Whether they’d still be saying that after eight hours remains to be seen.
Will it ever happen?
While JetBlue are banking on the A321 for their transatlantic ambitions, Neeleman’s new startup Moxy has also set its sights on transatlantic trade, but has only ordered the A220 so far. In many ways, flying a small, efficient aircraft with a completely full cabin is going to be a lot more appealing to carriers, particularly new entrants, than attempting to fill a widebody jet.
What would be interesting would be to see the A220 in an all-business class configuration, a bit like BA’s A318 or La Compagnie’s 757s and A321neos. Neeleman previously speculated that the A220 was a highly versatile aircraft; perhaps this is one of the tricks up his sleeve?
While all business would be nice, it’s unlikely any airline will be willing to take the risk, but perhaps, in future, we will see a normally configured A220 making the trip across the Atlantic. Although some frequent long haulers would balk at the very idea of going so far in such a small aircraft, I have a feeling that if the price is right, it could work out.