Could The Airbus A220 Ever Fly Passengers Across The Atlantic?

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?

A220 transatlantic
Could the A220 go transatlantic? Photo: Airbus

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.

ETOPS-A220
Airbus infographic following the ETOPS certification. Image: Airbus

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.

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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?

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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.

A220 transatlantic
airBaltic holds the record for the longest A220 flight. Photo: Jo Bailey – Simple Flying

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 3,451 miles of great circle distance. That’s approximately 46% longer than the current longest flight, so applying some beer mat math to this would put the flight time at around 8 and a half hours.

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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).

A220 transatlantic
The 5-abreast seating cannot be densified. Photo: Jo Bailey – Simple Flying

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.

A220 transatlantic
An all business arrangement could be an interesting proposition. Photo: La Compagnie

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.

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Ronald

Typical flights from jfk to LHR take about 6 hours. Not 8.5 as suggested in your post. JFK to LAX is about 5.25.. So.. Not so bad eh?

Dan Bailey

Has there been any recent talk about Odyssey Airlines? Didn’t they intend doing the London City to JFK route with the C-Series/A220 in an all-premium config?

Frank

I definitely think that Air Canada will try it, probably out of Halifax to LHR. An all business class A220-100 to London CIty from NYC is also a possibility, as it has the steep angle approach certification.

So much of what airlines do is based on how profitable a route can be – and given that the A220 is in it’s infancy and is still working out the kinks (hello there, Pratt geared turbo-fan engines…), it might be awhile before you see airlines pushing out the envelope on performance.

The problem with filling up the tanks and using the max range of an aircraft, is that you are using fuel to carry fuel, a long way. I think it was a Wendover video that had a graph of the ‘sweet’ range of profitability for a given type of aircraft and as you reach closer to it’s limit, expenses increase exponentially.

That being said, I can see some airline selling the NYC to London City Airport all J-class as an exclusive ‘almost private jet’ experience to business travellers. How many seats, Joanne – would they put on such an aircraft? Has anyone seen any numbers on this?

Great report, as always.

WR2

Can they? Yes. But it depends on the economics. I doubt the economics of an A220 long haul are better than an A320 or 737, so it would seem better suited to secondary to secondary cities, nothing from JFK. Also, why all J? That takes away ability to segment market. Also, we all know that part of joy of F/J is all the plebes walking by you green with envy 😉

RC20

The question is what is the real range with fuel reserves?

Can they do Newark to Paris, Chicago to Gatwick or Stanstead?

That uis where the action would be if it can be done.

Frank

If anyone wants to have a gander, I mentioned earlier a video from Wendover (no – not a shill, just recognise good content) who talks about aircraft and their fuel curves…

“The Rise of 20-Hour Long Flights”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNUomfuWuA8&t=7s

It’s a great 12 minute watch, but the salient info on fuel is around 03:20.

Frank

Well — here’s a little tidbit in relation to the subject at hand, from Aviation Week:

https://aviationweek.com/crossover-narrowbody-jets/neeleman-set-another-us-airline-operating-used-e195s

According to Neeleman, Moxy’s A220s will have a range of 4,000 nm as extra fuel tanks will be installed. That will enable the carrier to fly transatlantic flights or routes like Orlando-Curitiba,Brazil. “Our A220s will have more range than the A321LR,” he said. Neeleman estimates that the A220s will have 70% lower trip costs than A330s.

Moxy ordered 60 A220-300s at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show.

Jack Abbott

The Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury said that airlines are requesting the range be extended again on the A220. An extended-range model could do very well in Transatlantic service, especially when its slippery airframe and very high cruising altitudes are well-suited to battle winter winds on westbound flights. Transatlantic flights at Mach 0.78 (economical cruising speed) on the A220 will typically take only 20 minutes longer than a widebody on a 6-hour flight, considering that the A220 is a ferocious climber and can get to FL041 very quickly, and can perform a high-speed glide on decent.