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Airbus Unveils Its Newest Plane, the A220

July 10, 2018
7 min read
Airbus Unveils Its Newest Plane, the A220
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The saga of the Bombardier C Series program came to an official end on Tuesday with the unveiling of a new name for the aircraft program. In a ceremony in Toulouse, France on Tuesday morning, the two Airbus-controlled aircraft types were renamed A220-100 and A220-300 instead of the CS100 and CS300, respectively.

A Look Back

The rebranding closes out a long and dramatic chapter in aviation history. The C Series program was originally conceived in 2004, with a feasibility study expecting a $2.1 billion development cost. Development setbacks — including an uncontained engine failure on one of the test aircraft — continued to plague the program. By the time the CS100 was certified in December 2015, the program was already far over budget with a total of $5.4 billion in costs. The program ended up costing nearly triple the original expectation.

The first CS100 finally entered service on July 15, 2016, with SWISS. TPG got a look inside the aircraft just days before the inaugural flight at the 2016 Farnborough Airshow, as well as another look around the cabin, arranged in a 2-3 configuration, in October 2017.

Meanwhile, the CS300 development continued. The eighth and final prototype of the C Series (Flight Test Vehicle 8) took off for the first time in March 2016, and was certified as the CS300 in July 2016. TPG reviewed an AirBaltic CS300 in November 2017.

Haunted by cost overruns and development setbacks, the C Series struggled to lock down sales. With 243 aircraft orders through the end of 2015 — including zero orders in the year — Bombardier was in desperate need of a large and noteworthy order. It would get that lifeline in April 2016, when Delta ordered 75 110-seat CS100 aircraft, planning to base the aircraft in New York and Los Angeles.

A projection of Delta's C Series livery. Image courtesy of Bombardier.

While the Delta order led a lot of credibility to the C Series program, the terms of the order would almost doom the program. Boeing launched a trade complaint with the US Department of Commerce, claiming that government subsidies helped Bombardier dump the aircraft in the US aviation market at below-production costs.

In September 2017, Boeing won its first ruling, with the US Department of Commerce recommending nearly 220% tariffs be applied. On October 6, 2017, the proposed tariff was increased to 292% — almost quadrupling the price of the aircraft. Immediately, Delta announced that it wouldn't pay the tariff — leading to speculation whether the airline would cancel its marquis order.

Bombardier's C Series Plane Image from Bombardier
Bombardier's C Series Plane. Image courtesy of Bombardier.

Airbus Acquisition

Then, in strode a white knight to the program's rescue. Airbus agreed to acquire 50.01% of the C Series program in a surprise announcement on October 17, 2017. As part of the announcement, Airbus pledged to develop an additional C Series final production line at Airbus’ manufacturing site in Alabama, which put theoretical US jobs on the line if the proposed tariffs held. While it's unclear if this move swayed the US International Trade Commission, in January 2018, the agency ended up voting by a count of 4-0 to strike down all tariffs on the C Series.

While passengers and aviation reporters dubbed the two aircraft "the most comfortable economy class you'll find," and early indications pointed to the fact that C Series aircraft are highly reliable, sales for the CS100 and CS300 have continued to lag. But now that Airbus has officially taken control of the program, it's looking to change those sales numbers quickly.

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Unveiling of the New Name

With the Airbus-Bombardier deal nearing completion earlier in 2018, it leaked that Airbus was planning to rename the C Series family to align with other Airbus naming conventions (i.e A300, A310, A320 family, A330, A340, A350 and A380). Early indications were that that the CS100 and CS300 would be renamed the A210 and A230. At Tuesday's unveiling at Airbus' Delivery Centre at Toulouse Airport (TLS), Airbus officially unveiled that the C Series would take on the A220 family name.

After an introduction for media and Airbus employees, Airbus and Bombardier representatives launched straight into sales pitches — seemingly more for airlines than the gathered media.

The partnership's Head of Sales David Dufrenois noted that the partnership is "open for business" and that the Airbus "global sales force is mobilized already." Rob Dewar, head of customer support & engineering, pointed out the aircraft's fuel efficiency, long range, 99% part commonality between the two aircraft and "20-minute turn around" ability. Christine De Gagne, director of cabin marketing, noted the large windows and said the cabin felt like "a baby A350."

Finally, Antonio Da Costa, head of product marketing for Airbus, demonstrated how the former C Series aircraft integrate into Airbus' single-aisle family.

Airbus unveiled in the news conference that tests were complete for the C Series aircraft to get ETOPS180 certification, an improvement it's bringing to the program. Once the certification process is complete, new route possibilities for the Airbus A220s would open — up to 180 minutes away from a suitable diversion airport.

Finally, Airbus confirmed at the news conference that the Mobile, Alabama final assembly line is set to open in 2020, with the ability to produce between 50-60 aircraft per year once fully up to speed, supplementing the 100-120 in expected production annually from the Mirabel, Canada final assembly line. The Airbus-Bombardier partnership continues to state that this Mobile final assembly line will operate to serve US airline customers.

With the media briefing over, it was time for the unveiling of the name via aircraft flyby — spoiled a bit by the new name and livery being photographed on the ground before takeoff. While the aircraft was flying a holding pattern around Toulouse, the aircraft type changed on FlightRadar24:

Sure enough, the flyby confirmed: The CS300 would be renamed as the Airbus A220-300.

After a quick turnaround, the aircraft landed at Toulouse Airport (TLS) to show off to the gathered media and Airbus employees.

What's Next for the A220?

The timing of this announcement isn't haphazard. Not only did Boeing and Embraer just last week announce a joint venture to operate Embraer's commercial division — 80% held by Boeing and 20% held by Embraer — but perhaps the most important airshow in the market is coming up in just a few days: Farnborough International Airshow 2018. The bi-annual event has become the premier airshow for aircraft manufactures and airlines to sign and announce new orders. And, no doubt, Airbus is hoping to announce many new A220 orders to supplement the 402 that the former C Series aircraft have already garnered.