Airbus ended 2021 on quite a high note as it landed a significant order from Aviation Capital Group on December 30th. This was just days after firming up an even larger order with Air Lease Corporation and announcing deals with Qantas and the Air France-KLM Group two weeks prior. So with this immense wave of positivity coming at the end of 2021, what can we expect from the European planemaker in 2022?
A critical year for the A321XLR
2022 will be a crucial year for Airbus and its A321XLR. Already having racked up hundreds of orders for its extra-long-range A321neo variant, the planemaker will need to ensure its first working prototype is fit to fly and can pass all necessary certification tests before mass production can begin. All of this critical airworthiness testing will happen in the coming year.
In June 2021, Airbus’s Executive Vice President of Programs and Services, Philippe Mhun, spoke to Aviation Week Network and said that there would be flight tests in 2022, leading to “an entry into service of the aircraft in 2023.” This timeline seems to be holding true, as Airbus showed off a mostly complete A321XLR at the start of December.
Thus, 2022 will see many of the standard milestones for any new aircraft type as it enters service, including:
- Ground-based structural testing
- A maiden flight
- A flight test campaign that will put the jet through extreme conditions. Some of the testing includes the following activities:
- Water ingestion trials
- Low-speed take-off tests
- Flutter tests
- Rejected take-offs and landings
- Certification by EASA and the FAA for the aircraft (and its engines) in pursuit of a Type Certificate.
A350F campaign to continue
2021 was the year Airbus officially launched its A350F program- introducing a freighter variant to its flagship widebody twinjet. While this new and upcoming type hasn’t seen the same astronomical levels of success as the A321XLR in terms of orders, the planemaker has indeed already found interested parties from various corners of the world. They include:
- Air Lease Corporation with an order for seven
- Singapore Airlines with a Letter of Intent (LOI) for seven
- CMA CGM with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for four
- and the Air France-KLM Group with an order for four
While orders are slowly coming in and computer mock-ups and promotional graphics have been developed, the type is nowhere near to entering service. Indeed, it appears that Airbus is aiming to deliver the first of the type in 2025. Therefore, 2022 will see Airbus quietly developing the A350F in the background while continuing to secure interest and orders for the jet.
Solving the paint saga?
One thing Airbus will probably want to put to rest in 2022 is its ongoing spat with Qatar Airways over “accelerated surface degradation condition,” on A350 aircraft.
On one side, Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority insist that this degradation is a risk to safety. The aviation regulator has grounded some of Qatar Airways’ fleet while the airline has refused to take new deliveries of the type until a resolution can be found. On the other side, Airbus is insisting that this degradation is purely cosmetic- citing a lack of concern by European regulator, EASA.
Airbus went on record late in 2021, saying that it would be conducting a legal assessment regarding an unnamed carrier’s comments (largely believed to be Qatar Airways). Shortly after, the Middle Eastern carrier took things a step further by officially taking the planemaker to court. The airline has filed a formal legal claim in UK’s High Court, in London.
Should this case proceed and go to trial, then we should be getting more details on the extent of the issue over the course of 2022. While both sides seem quite convinced and entrenched in their own respective positions, there’s a slim chance that a settlement could be reached out of court- preventing details from being disclosed to the public.
New types on the horizon?
Perhaps more of a wishlist than a firm prediction, but it would be exciting to have Airbus announce the launch of new types in 2022. Stretching would be the key term here, as there has been a public interest for longer versions of existing Airbus types.
One of the theoretical types that has been floating around as a possibility is an A220-500, a further stretch of the A220-300. Airlines known to have already expressed interest in a longer A220 include airBaltic, Air France, and to a lesser extent, Breeze Airways. While Airbus noted in August 2020 that a stretch of the A220 was not a priority, 16 months is a long time, and perhaps this prospect has moved a little higher up on the company’s list of priorities.
At the same time, Breeze CEO David Neeleman has noted that he would like to see an A220-300 with auxiliary fuel tanks- an added feature that would better enable the airline to go transatlantic. So maybe an A220-300LR will be on the horizon? It’s hard to say what the chances of this are in the short-term as it too may not be a huge priority for the planemaker.
Whether or not new A220 variants will be launched, we do know that the planemaker will be prioritizing an increase in the production rate for the A220 variants it is currently making.
In May 2021 we reported that Airbus was seeking interest in a stretched A321- or something that could be called an “A322.” However, the month after, Airbus put its foot down, telling the media that there was ‘no such thing.’ Speaking at a media briefing at the time, Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer clarified Airbus’ position on the rumors, saying:
“Regarding the stretch … I wish I had more earlier availability of the existing A321neo, the A321LR and the XLR. I do not feel that there is a need at this particular point to stretch their planning.”
Therefore, while it would be an extremely exciting thing to see, the prospects of Airbus launching an aircraft like this in the near future seem to be quite unlikely.
The quest for sustainability continues
As has been consistent throughout 2021, 2022 will see Airbus continuing to pursue its sustainability projects: Hydrogen for the long-term and biofuel compatibility in the short-term.
In June, Airbus announced that it was launching two dedicated Zero-Emission Development Centres (ZEDC) in France and Germany with sites that will develop and assemble tanks for liquid hydrogen. These are set to be fully operational by 2023, with a first test flight scheduled for 2025. December saw the company announced another ZEDC in Spain that will focus on carbon fiber tanks, non-propulsive energy, and processes for fuel cell cooling and fiber optics, while another Airbus entity (UpNext) will concentrate on researching and demonstrating hydrogen-powered non-propulsive energies.
In the shorter term, Airbus will continue to work with partners on getting its aircraft to run on 100% biofuel rather than the partial blends we are seeing burned today. Late October 2021 saw Airbus complete an A319neo test flight using unblended, 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) on one engine. The European planemaker notes that initial results from its ground and flight tests are expected this year as it hopes to eventually get two engines operating with 100% unblended SAF.
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On a lower level of excitement is the possibility that 2022 will see Airbus offer blackout dimmable windows on its A350s. Controllable via a tablet, Airbus told Simple Flying that carriers will have the option of deploying an electro-dimmable model with windows that will offer over “99.9% sunlight-blocking performance.”
While it’s a love-hate relationship with passengers, airlines may choose this option as a way to save on crew time and maintenance, as windows can be dimmed and reset throughout the cabin with the touch of a button. Other than an expectation of being available in 2022, we haven’t had any firm dates on when passengers will be able to experience this for themselves.
Overall, Airbus appears to have an exciting year ahead of it. With a firm end to its A380 program, the company can shift its attention to ramping up production of its most popular types while working towards the A321XLR’s entry into service.
While its A350 issue doesn’t appear to be as severe as Boeing’s 787 production hiccups, it’s certainly something to keep a close eye on.