Airbus Completes First A319neo Flight Without Much Fanfare

Apr 3, 2017

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Only hours before Boeing’s 787-10 Dreamliner made its maiden voyage on Friday, Airbus flew its updated A319neo for the first time. The flight took off from the Airbus Finkenwerder facility in Hamburg, Germany at 11:13am local time, and flew down to the company’s headquarters in Toulouse, France.

During the flight, pilots Michel Gagneux and Eckard Hausser tested the handling of the aircraft and checked its main systems.

The odd thing about this isn’t only that Airbus chose to make this first flight on the same day as the brand-new Boeing, but that the two companies handled these notable events very differently. Boeing invited the internet to watch a livestream of the broadcast several days in advance, while the A319neo’s first flight was a surprise to pretty much everyone.

Engine issues may be the reason Airbus opted to operate his inaugural flight with such little fanfare. The Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engines have been a bit problematic, and caused Qatar Airways to opt out of accepting delivery of the A320neos it had ordered. A source told me that the A319neo wasn’t ever intended to have the CFM LEAP-1A engines that it flew with on Friday. CFM is a joint venture of General Electric and Safran. However, Airbus is still offering the Pratt & Whitney engines on the A319neo.

Test pilots for Airbus’ first A319neo flight.

The “neo” in the name of the aircraft stands for “New Engine Option,” where Airbus has chosen to upgrade the engines on tried-and-true designs. The A319neo joins the A320neo — which has already been delivered to several airline customers — and the A321neo, which received its type certification last month. Between the three aircraft types, Airbus offers seat capacities ranging from 100 to 240 passengers, depending on how airlines choose to configure their planes. Size-wise, the A320 family of aircraft is comparable to the Boeing 737 series, which also comes in three variants.

Airbus is also building a neo adaptation of its popular A330 wide-body jet, but that plane has also been delayed by engine problems, this time from Rolls-Royce. It’s still expected to fly this year.

Airbus lists the A319neo sticker price at $99.5 million, but airlines typically pay much less when placing orders in bulk. So far, only 55 A319neos have been ordered, with Colombian airline Avianca and American ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines as the largest customers. Airbus expects certification of the A319neo early next year. Delta and United each have current-generation A319s, but have not placed orders for the A319neo.

All images courtesy of Airbus.

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