First, airlines want the most fuel-efficient aircraft they can buy. Boeing says only 5,780 of today's nearly 20,000 in-service aircraft will be retained in 2031. Fully 14,110—41% of the fleet—will be replaced, while 19,890 (59%) of total orders will be for growth. The gap between replacement and growth aircraft is narrowing; it used to be decidedly tipped toward fleet growth. Second, the strength of emerging markets continues.
The best-selling size for single-aisle transports is one seating 150-170 passengers. The CSeries has attracted just 138 orders for 110-149-seat aircraft. The 150-seat C919 has attainted 235 orders, all from Chinese owned customers. The 150-212-seat MS-21 series from Russia's Irkut Corp. also has garnered 235 orders, all from within Russia.
Airbus is still sorting out some development issues for the NEO. For instance, this fall, Airbus and Pratt & Whitney will determine when the PW1100G is to be flight tested, a decision that is due once Pratt begins ground runs of the first engine. The flying testbed activity is expected in 2013.
A similar discussion will take place with CFM about scheduling the Leap-1A, the alternate engine on offer for the NEO. But Leap is being fielded later, so its scheduling decisions will trail by around a year. Nonetheless, CFM Executive Vice President Cedrick Goubet says the engine's development is holding to a schedule that sees it certified in 2015 and in service in 2016.
Airbus's flight-test program should see a total of eight NEOs flying. Kicking off the activity will be two A320NEOs powered by PW1100Gs and two by Leap-1As. The subsequent models, the A319 and A321, will have one test aircraft per engine type. The flight-test campaign is expected to run for roughly 18 months.
Airbus is planning an entry into service with the PW1100G in October 2015 for the A320, followed by the A319 in the second quarter of 2016, with the A321 to follow in the fourth quarter. For the Leap-1A, the in-service dates are the second quarter of 2016 for the lead-aircraft, the A320, with the A319 following in the third quarter and the A321 in the first quarter of 2017.
Airbus has tried to minimize program changes to reduce risk and complexity. One issue that will receive close attention is management of the interface between the turbofan and wing.
Williams notes that there have been many ideas put forward for more extensive changes, but they have largely been rejected. “From a minimum-risk point of view, we want minimum changes,” he insists.
Airbus, meanwhile, is introducing upgrades to the current A320 family. The most visible of these is the winglet now in flight trials, with first deliveries planned this year. Airbus has a retrofit of this “Sharklet” option in mind; it is expected to deliver nearly the same 3.5% fuel-burn benefit as it would on a new aircraft.
Another plan is to expand to single-aisle models the runway-overrun-protection feature that the A380 pioneered. It alerts pilots if they lack sufficient runway to complete a safe landing, instructing them to attempt a go-around or telling them how to apply brake and thrust settings to avoid an overrun. This feature is slated for introduction next year. It will be available for retrofit on some A320s.