How Airbus Secretly Upgrades New Aircraft All The Time

Passengers boarding an A350 built last month may not notice a terribly huge difference compared to one that was built four years ago. The model number is the same; the inside and outside would look nearly identical. However, an airline will know that its newer aircraft operates better on several levels such as range and take-off weight. This is because the European aircraft manufacturer is continuously making small improvements to their aircraft without drawing much attention to it.

Airbus A350 static test
Airbus made improvements to the A350 in 2017. Photo: Airbus

Meeting future requirements

This is what an Airbus spokesperson had to say when asked about their continuous upgrades and improvements to their aircraft:

“As a leading aircraft manufacturer, we are in constant dialogue with our customers in order to meet their todays and future requirements, advancing our products, keeping them at the leading edge of technology … Airbus is always looking at new concepts based on existing platforms – this is an integral part of our design philosophy. But not every study sees the light of day.”

The A350: then and now

We asked Airbus about improvements made to the A350. The company told us that it’s come a long way in its development. Since first being delivered to launch customer Qatar Airways in December 2014, the aircraft type has seen improvements to its maximum take-off weight (MTOW). For the A350-900, it was originally 269t, but that has been improved to 280t. The A350-1000 has also been improved, going from an MTOW of 308t to 319t.

Aeroflot, Airbus A350, Delivery
Aeroflot took delivery of its first Airbus A350 at a ceremony in Toulouse last week. Photo: Sumit Rehal – Simple Flying

According to Leeham News, Airbus discovered during A350-900 flight testing that the pressure distribution of the wing could be improved further. This required a “change of the wing production tools” paired a limited flight test campaign (to verify that changes don’t affect other characteristics of the aircraft). This also led to an increase in the size of the aircraft’s winglets.

In addition to greater MTOW, an increased range and better fuel consumption were benefits of the changes.

An updated A330neo

We’ve already covered the new version of the A330neo in a previous article. On February 28th – just last week – an updated version of this aircraft had its maiden flight, one that will offer greater range and payload weight.

In fact, this new version of the A330-900 offers an additional 9t of MTOW, as well as an additional 650nm of range over its predecessor. For the record – the A330neo has only been around for three years!

Airbus A330neo
The high-weight A330neo took off on its maiden flight on 28 February. Photo: Airbus

There was, in fact, a press release and a press call regarding this aircraft – so this was not a huge secret to begin with. However, it’s probably not something that airlines will be including in their marketing material to potential passengers any time soon.

Conclusion

While these improvements may be noticed through updated promotional material and official filings, it’s not something the everyday traveler would be aware of.

Of course, it would just be bad PR and marketing if Airbus didn’t make a big deal about its bigger improvements. We can see this clearly with the A321LR and XLR- the latter making a huge splash at last year’s Dubai Air Show.

How Airbus Secretly Upgrades New Aircraft All The Time
Airbus facilities in Hamburg. Photo: Getty Images

The delivery of these new versions of aircraft won’t necessarily have delivery ceremonies or big media events attached to them. However, airlines will benefit greatly from the update – even if the aircraft looks the exact same.

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