The Airbus A220 has proven to be a versatile aircraft, offering unbeatable fuel efficiency, long range, and a comfortable cabin. This success has led to a lot of interest in a stretched version of the A220, which would offer more seats. So what is the potential for an A220 stretch? Would the plane find favor among airlines?
Plans being made
The idea of an A220 stretch is not a novel one, both Bombardier (who designed the A220 as the CSeries) and Airbus have considered the idea. This aircraft, known as the A220-500, would build upon the current aircraft’s success, stretching the fuselage and adding more seats. While this would slightly impact range, it would still offer excellent efficiency.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Bombardier expected the A220 fuselage to be stretched when it manufactured the plane, so it was no surprise when Airbus requested a test of the A220-500 on a High Performance Computer (HPC) used for aircraft testing. Bombardier already had these results on hand, having tested the then-CS500 in the HPC. While no statistics are public, we could expect the A220-500 to seat around 165 passengers (up from the -300s capacity of 120-150 passengers).
However, Airbus has gone a step further and even requested renders of an A220-700, -900, and even a -1000! While these are unlikely to ever come into production, it does underscore what Airbus is considering for the future of the A220. A stretch is definitely on the cards, just how much is yet to be decided!
Why the A220?
While stretching out the A220 does sound like a great idea, why is Airbus considering the idea when it could bump up against the best-selling A320 family? A prospective A220-500 would compete directly with the A319neo, which is already struggling to gain traction. Any longer, and the A220 could come up against the A320neo itself. However, Airbus does have a reason to continue exploring the A220 stretch.
This year’s pandemic has shown how susceptible airline fleets can be to a downturn. Airlines with all-widebody fleets were left struggling as everyone parked up their large planes. Only a handful of aircraft types remain in very active use today, and they all have one thing in common: efficiency.
The A220 is undeniably the winner of this pandemic. Our analysis showed that nearly the entire global A220 is in the sky right now, with only 6% of planes parked as of August. The plane’s efficiency and long-range has allowed airlines to substitute larger aircraft on key routes, keeping them in the sky while others remain on the ground.
In a statement to Bloomberg, Airbus’ Narrowbody Marketing Chief said,
“In a pandemic airlines go for the most efficient, lowest cost. This was the aircraft of choice, it was flying around most of the time”.
The global A220 fleet is now approaching 100% usage, clearly showing that the A220 has the potential to grow further.
Is there interest?
While a stretched A220 does look good on paper, is anyone really interested in buying the aircraft? The answer is yes. In an interview with Simple Flying, airBaltic CEO Martin Gauss confirmed that his airline is very interested in an A220-500. This is because airBaltic recently became an all-A220 airline and a stretched version of the plane would allow for more seats on high-demand routes. Maintenance costs could also be kept low since the plane is from the same family.
However, it’s not just airBaltic that has shown its interest in the potential A220-500. European giant Air France-KLM has also signaled that it would be keen to see a stretched version of the A220. The group sees the aircraft as a great way to overhaul its short- and medium-haul offerings in the coming years. Currently, Air France has an order for 60 A220-300s and options for 60 more, with deliveries starting next autumn.
Clearly, there is no lack of demand for airlines for the stretch A220. Most airlines prefer the plane since it allows them to open up short or medium-haul, lower-demand routes, which conventionally need high-capacity aircraft. The A220-300 has a range of 3,400nm, or the distance from New York to Edinburgh. We could expect a stretched version to have a slightly lower range but still enough to satisfy the longest of medium-haul routes (5-6 hours of flying time).
Not a priority, for now
While there is great interest and potential for an A220-500, Airbus is not looking to invest in the new aircraft just yet. This isn’t due to a flaw with the idea itself, but rather the manufacturer’s current financial situation. In a statement at Aviation Week webinar, Chairman and CEO of Airbus Americas, Jeff Knittel, said
“Under Bombardier, there was a lot of discussion about the -500 and the potential. That potential exists today, but it is not a priority. We have a lot on our plate. We are focused on cash preservation ourselves.”
For the time being, Airbus is only focused on cutting costs and saving capital. This year’s crisis has taken a severe blow on the European giant’s finances and deliveries have fallen sharply. In a climate such as this, there is little incentive to spend hundreds of millions on a new aircraft variant, especially when the A220 family is doing so well.
However, this is not to say the stretched A220 is permanently shelved. It’s very likely that Airbus once again considers the variant once the market picks up and demand rises. An optimistic timeline would be 2024 but we don’t know anything for certain yet. We may not see the stretch A220 soon but we likely will at some point!
What do you think about the potential of A220-500? Let us know in the comments below!