Does Commercial Aviation Need A Mega-Twin?

By Rupa Haria rupa.haria@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First
January 31, 2014
Credit: Institute of Aerospace Systems

Our report last week on a study funded by Airbus for a New Long Range (NLR) project raised eyebrows among our readers. The 470-seat Airbus NLR twinjet project, a response to Boeing’s recently launched 777X, could fly at a cruise speed of Mach 0.85 with a large high-aspect-ratio wingspan of 80 meters – larger than the 747-8 and smaller than the A380.

The study is particularly remarkable considering Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier has firmly stated that he does not want to launch a new aircraft within the next ten years. “We need to focus on incremental improvement of our products,” rather than going for all-new concepts.

We can hear Bregier’s edict echoed by his airline customers, who at the same time seem to be open to the NLR idea. Emirates president Tim Clark told Aviation Week he wants to see a reengined A380, and rumblings about an A330neo continue to put pressure on the airframer to make a decision on the future of the most successful widebody it has ever built. Then there’s the question of a proposed further stretch of the yet-to-be-built A350-1000.

With all these considerations, does Airbus have the appetite to launch a new airplane program in the next decade? Readers here on aviationweek.com and our LinkedIn community raised a number of questions about the viability of a new mega-twin. Now we ask you to weigh in on the following questions:

How big can twins get? Most thought the 777X would be the largest ever – but is a 747-sized twin even safe?

Airbus is aiming NLR at the current 747-8 seat size, but could the economics of a big twin be good enough to kick-start the sluggish 747-8 sized passenger market?

Although the NLR is smaller than the A380, isn’t Airbus threatening its hold on the higher capacity market for the already struggling leviathan?

Boeing is choosing a folding 777X wing to help with infrastructure requirements for large wingspans – will the NLR do the same?

What safety procedures, particularly in relation to egress, would need to be implemented?

What about the cost of maintenance?