Why Has Airbus Created neo Versions Of Planes?

**Update: 02/03/2021 @ 14:50 – Corrected information about new engine efficiency and fuel burn **

The Airbus A320 is the best selling Airbus aircraft and not far behind the Boeing 737 for most popular to date. One of the successes of the series has been the regular updating with new models and features. This has included the development of ‘neo,’ or New Engine Option, variants. This article looks at why Airbus did this and what the main differences are.

Why Has Airbus Created neo Versions Of Planes?
An Airbus A320neo aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

A320ceo and A320neo families

The A320 first flew in 1988, with launch customer Air France. This first model was soon followed by the longer A321 in 1994, the shorter A319 in 1996, and the A318 in 2003. These new models came with minimal structural modifications and similar cockpit design and operating procedures.

This has been a major advantage for airlines, lowering operating and maintenance costs and allowing pilots to operate aircraft across the fleet.

Airbus A318
The Airbus A318 is the smallest version of the A320 family. Photo: Getty Images

By 2006, Airbus began looking for ways to offer a more efficient narrowbody aircraft. Customers were looking for this in new orders, and other manufacturers were heading towards offering it. Rather than develop a new aircraft model, Airbus focused on changes to the existing A320 family.

After some developments offering efficiency gains with modifications including winglets and weight savings (through the A320 Enhanced, or A320E, program), they soon moved to the development of new variants for the whole family, known as A320neo, or ‘new engine option.’ The original family then became known as A320ceo (for ‘current engine option’).

A320neo first flight
The A320neo made its first flight in 2014. Photo: Don-vip via Wikimedia

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Beating the competition

In its coverage of the development, the New York Times reports how it was not just competition from Boeing that led to these changes but also from other manufacturers. They explain:

“Analysts said Airbus’s decision was likely motivated more out of concern about the challenge posed by smaller rivals from Brazil, Canada, China, and Japan. They are all developing their own jets with the same engines as the A320neo and up to 150 seats, bringing their capacity and fuel burn within striking distance of Airbus’s biggest money maker.”

These competing aircraft included the Bombardier C Series (of course later to become the Airbus A220) and the C919, being manufactured by Chinese company COMAC.

Comac C919 OTT Airlines
The Chinese built COMAC C919 was one of the aircraft Airbus saw as potential competition for the A320. Photo: Getty Images

New engines and more efficient operation

These potential competing aircraft offered new engines and more efficient operation, and that was the focus of the A320neo development.

The main difference, of course, is in the new engines. The A320neo uses CFM International LEAP-1A or Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines. Compared to the A320ceo engines, these offered a reduction in maintenance cost of 20% and a reduced fuel burn of up to 16% (according to data from FlightGlobal).

Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines
The Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines are one of the two choices for the A320neo series. Photo: Getty Images

Other improvements introduced with the A320neo include:

  • Introduction of sharklets. These curved wingtips (also used by Boeing on the 737) offer a fuel burn reduction of up to 3.5%.
  • New, enlarged cabin design. With changes to the rear galley, toilet design, and new seat layouts, the A320neo offers additional cabin space (but the number of seats, of course, depends on the airline’s chosen configurations).
  • Improved range. The A32neo range is 6,850 kilometers, compared to 5,700 kilometers for the A320.
New engines and sharklets on the A320neo both contribute to efficiency gains. Photo: Getty Images

Overall, the A320neo offers (according to Airbus) up to 15% total fuel saving over the A320ceo. And, as with the members of the original A320ceo family, Airbus maintained cockpit and airframe consistency. The A320neo offers a 95% airframe commonality with the A320.

Overall, this offered a good upgrade option for airlines, for a price increase of around $10 million ($110 million initial list price).

Some airlines were slower to move over to the neo family, perhaps partly as many of the improvements (except the engines) could be fitted to existing A320ceo, bringing some of the efficiency gains at a lower cost.

Lufthansa A320neo
Lufthansa was the launch customer for the A320neo in January 2016. Photo: Getty Images

Over time, the A320neo has proved to be popular for Airbus. Moreover, in September 2019, Airbus delivered its 9,000th A320 family aircraft – to the British-based airline easyJet.

Airbus delivered its 9,000th A320 family aircraft in September 2019 in the form of an A320neo. Photo: Airbus

Not without its problems

Despite their popularity, the A320neo aircraft have not been without their problems. There have been issues reported since 2018 with Pratt & Whitney 1100G engines. This has affected several airlines in India. We also reported how a Lufthansa aircraft suffered engine failure in early 2020. Qatar Airways have switched their A320neo orders to include CFM engines in light of this.

There have also been problems with the aircraft’s center of gravity, leading to several airlines having to block the last row of seats.

Of course, any problems with aircraft is worrying. But so far, the A320neo has not seen anything like the scale of issues faced by the Boing 737 MAX. With their ongoing grounding, perhaps the A320 will head to the top spot for the most purchased narrowbody faster.

Let us know your thought on the A320neo versus ceo in the comments below.