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Building on a record year (2014)

Airbus A350 XWB flight test and certification programme will reach its full pace this year, with five aircraft joining the campaign leading up to the aircraft’s planned service entry with Qatar Airways in 2014.

Airbus is poised to continue its strong momentum from a record-breaking 2013, which confirmed the company’s position as a global aviation leader and its capability to meet customer expectations across its complete product line of single-aisle and widebody jetliners. 

The company will build on a highly successful 2013 as it targets important programme milestones this year, including: the next-generation widebody A350 XWB jetliner’s service entry; the initial flight of the A320neo (new engine option); along with progress on certification for the A330’s increased takeoff weight and regional versions.

This builds Airbus’ strong performance in 2013, during which the company set industry-wide records – both in terms of units and value – with new gross bookings for 1,619 aircraft (1,503 orders net, when cancellations are taken into account). 

In addition, Airbus’ 626 total jetliners delivered to 93 customers in 2013 marked a highest-ever company output.

Preparing for duty

The number of flying A350 XWB developmental aircraft doubled from two to four on 26 February with the simultaneous maiden flights of MSN2 and MSN4 in France.

Airbus’ next-generation A350 XWB jetliner is being readied to shape efficiency for the future of flight from its planned service entry with Qatar Airways in the fourth quarter of 2014. 

In February, the A350 XWB took centre stage in the aviation world, making headlines with the “debut” of MSN3 (the no. 2 development aircraft to fly) at the 2014 Singapore Airshow following its appearance in Doha, Qatar.  During its stopovers in Singapore and Qatar, pilots from Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines became the first outside the Airbus flight test team to fly the A350 XWB.

The flying A350 XWB test fleet doubled in early 2014 with the maiden flights of MSN2 and MSN4 from Toulouse, France on the same day: 26 February. Carrying a signature “carbon-themed” livery, MSN2 is the first of these widebody jetliners to be equipped with a full passenger cabin, while MSN4 is adorned in the combined colours of Airbus and Qatar Airways – the launch customer for this next-generation widebody aircraft.

As of mid-February, Airbus’ first two A350 XWB developmental aircraft – MSN1 and MSN 3 – have performed close to 1,100 flight test hours of the programme’s planned 2,500 hours.

This efficient medium- to long-haul product line remains popular globally, amassing 814 orders from 39 customers as of February’s Singapore Airshow, which includes commitments from many of the world’s leading airlines.

A single-aisle evolution takes flight

In March, the first jetliner from Airbus’ best-selling single-aisle A320neo programme entered final assembly in Toulouse, France.

In another important development for 2014, the fastest-selling commercial airliner ever – the A320neo (new engine option) – is scheduled to take to the skies for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2014. 

Airbus started final assembly for the first A320neo aircraft in March, commencing the join-up of the fuselage’s forward and aft sections at its Toulouse, France single-aisle final assembly line.

In addition to incorporating two new engine choices – CFM International’s LEAP-1A and the PurePower PW1100G-JM from Pratt & Whitney – NEO jetliners feature standard Sharklet wingtip devices. This results in up to 15 per cent fuel savings, while sharing 95 per cent commonality with A320ceo (current engine option) aircraft.  

As the first A320neo entered final assembly, more than 2,600 NEO aircraft had been ordered by nearly 50 customers, building on the already proven success and efficiency of the CEO product line. Together, the popular A320 Family’s CEO and NEO versions have totaled more than 10,000 orders, resulting in the best-selling single-aisle product line and the preferred choice for traditional airlines and low-cost carriers alike.

As a result of the A320 Family’s strong backlog and continuing commercial success, Airbus announced in February a production ramp-up. This gradual increase will occur through the second quarter of 2016, when single-aisle jetliner production is scheduled to reach 46 per month – up from the rate of 42 as of the announcement.

The expanding A380 operator base

Asiana Airlines’ no. 1 A380 rolls out of the Airbus’ Hamburg, Germany paintshop in its complete livery.

Now in its sixth year of commercial service, the 21st century flagship A380 continues to exceed expectations as its global operator base grows, with four new customers planning to receive their first of these double-deck jetliners in 2014. 

Doha-based Qatar Airways – which will also receive the initial A350 XWB – is scheduled to become the eleventh A380 operator when it takes delivery of its no. 1 aircraft this year out of a firm order for 10. South Korean’s Asiana Airlines – which has ordered six A380s – is to follow as the 12th global A380 operator in the second quarter of 2014, when it receives its first A380.

Airbus is also preparing to deliver the initial A380 for Japan’s Skymark Airlines in 2014, with the jetliner’s structural assembly completed in February. This Japanese carrier has six of these double-deck aircraft on order, and will become the first Japan-based operator to offer A380 service. 

Rounding out the list of new A380 operators this year is United Arab Emirates flag carrier Etihad Airways. Its first of 10 aircraft on order will be provided by 2014’s end.

The A380 began 2014 on a strong note, with Amedeo (previously Doric Lease Corp) firming up its order of 20 A380s during February’s Singapore Air Show. The final agreement, which resulted from a Memorandum of Understanding announced at the 2013 Paris Air Show, expands this jetliner’s profile in the lease market – increasing the A380’s availability to new and existing customers through the flexibility of operating leases. This follows Emirates Airline’s repeat order for 50 of these double-deck aircraft, which was firmed up in December 2013, bringing the worldwide booking total to more than 300 A380s, including 140 for Emirates. 

The global A380 fleet was performing more than 150 commercial flights every day as of January 2014, carrying more than 1.5 million passengers per month and confirming its ability to generate revenue, stimulate traffic and draw passengers.

A focus on passenger comfort

The Airbus Comfort Zone’s full-scale cabin mockup at February’s Singapore Airshow offered attendees the chance to experience the difference between the company’s standard economy class 18-inch wide seat and a 17-inch wide seat.

Airbus is underscoring its commitment to the well-being of passengers who fly on its aircraft with its latest focus on “comfort without compromise.”

Highlighted during the 2014 Singapore Airshow, this new messaging underscores Airbus’ modern standard for comfort – 18-inch wide seats in full-service economy class for long haul – which provide superior comfort for travellers, while still offering airlines unrivalled operating economics and fuel efficiency. 

As long-haul flights are covering greater distances and becoming more frequent, seat width is one of the most important factors for comfort aloft.  The company’s standard 18-inch wide seats for full-service long-haul economy travel provide an additional inch of room compared to the 17-inch 1950s-era norm, which is still used by other aircraft manufacturers today. 

The single-aisle A320 Family and the widebody A330 and A350 XWB jetliners are designed to accommodate an 18-inch wide seat in economy class, while the 21st century flagship A380 provides an even roomier 18.5-inch norm, in addition to Airbus’ offering of the latest seat options in business and first class. Airbus is also a leader in other aspects of cabin comfort, including innovative features such as LED mood lighting, connectivity and optimal air circulation.

Continued reliability of the A330

With an average dispatch reliability of greater than 99 per cent, the dependable A330 Family has maintained its worldwide popularity, receiving 1,313 orders from more than 100 customers for the type through December 2013. 

Airbus has applied ongoing upgrades to the programme to meet the requirements of this widebody aircraft’s global customer base and is progressing towards certification of its latest A330 versions in 2014.  

The company is increasing the A330’s maximum takeoff weight to 242 metric tonnes for the A330-200 and A330-300 variants, to further enhance this airliner family’s performance. In addition, Airbus announced it will offer a lower-weight A330-300 version which is optimised for domestic and regional routes – further expanding this versatile product line’s capabilities.

Singapore Airshow: focus on Asia-Pacific

The company’s modern jetliners were prominently featured on the Singapore Airshow stand of the Airbus Group, which was exhibiting for the first time at a major aviation gathering under its new “Airbus” branding.

Underscoring its commitment to the dynamic Asia-Pacific, Airbus’ active presence at the 2014 Singapore Airshow brought new commercial announcements and partnership agreements – along with the “debut” of A350 XWB developmental jetliner MSN3 at Changi Exhibition Centre.

Airbus marked several key milestones during the show to support one of the world’s fastest growing aviation markets, including the inauguration of the Satair Airbus Singapore Centre operation of the Satair Group: a wholly-owned Airbus subsidiary that merges its former Material and Logistics Management function with Satair, a Denmark-headquartered spares and aircraft maintenance company. 

During the show, Airbus and Singapore Airlines also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a flight-training joint venture in Asia, which will cover the complete scope of Airbus modern jetliners – with plans for one A380, one A330, two A320 and four A350 XWB full-flight simulators – along with a centre of excellence to focus on research and development of training methods and technologies.

Airbus’ A350 XWB flight-test aircraft – designated MSN3 – was the show’s star “guest.” Following its visit to Doha, Qatar, the aircraft took centre stage – both in static display and flying presentations – during the tradeshow, underscoring the popularity of this next-generation widebody aircraft in Asia, which accounts for 30 percent of its orders and largest customer base in terms of number of airlines. 

In commercial activity, the A320 continued its popularity with Asia’s low cost carriers as VietJetAir finalized its acquisition of up to 100 of these single aisle jetliners – covering both new (NEO) and current engine options (CEO). Also during the event, Amedeo (formerly Doric Lease Corp) firmed a contract for 20 A380s, which creates new opportunities for operators to acquire this 21st century flagship aircraft on the lease market.

Taking the “Airbus” name one step further

Airbus’ proven commitment to excellence and innovation in the aviation industry as well as its globally-recognized name is the basis for its parent company’s rebranding as the Airbus Group beginning in 2014. 

Under the Airbus Group’s new structure Airbus – which is the company’s commercial aircraft division – will operate in close cooperation with Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter) and the new Airbus Defence and Space business unit (which integrates the former Astrium, Cassidian and Airbus Military).

Airbus will complete the transfer-out of its military aircraft activities to Airbus Defence and Space by the end of 2014, having successfully brought the A400M multi-role airlifter to delivery start-up phase in 2013.

U.S. A320 final assembly line takes shape

Construction crew and project members mark the placement of the final truss atop the initial Mobile final assembly line building’s roof, which finished the structure’s “skeleton” in January.

Airbus’ new U.S. A320 Family final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama – a significant element in growing the company’s global industrial footprint – continues to progress towards the start of aircraft assembly operations, scheduled to begin in 2015. 

The company began 2014 with a major construction milestone: January’s placement of the final truss in the roof of the first building at the facility. This step concluded completion of the “skeleton” framework for the final assembly line’s hangar, which is where A320 Family aircraft are to be assembled. 

Meanwhile, an initial group of production employees – including manufacturing engineers, station managers and a quality manager – began on-the-job training at Airbus’ Hamburg, Germany facilities in January, following two months of training in Mobile.

Airbus’ “game-changing” U.S. A320 Family facility underscores its commitment to the American marketplace – one of the largest for single-aisle aircraft in the world – and will be the company’s fourth final assembly line worldwide for its single-aisle jetliner product line. First aircraft deliveries from the Alabama site are targeted for 2016, with the facility anticipated to produce between 40 and 50 jetliners annually by 2018.

Continuing partnership with China

The strategic cooperation between Airbus and China was extended with agreements signed during March at France’s Elysée presidential palace.

Airbus strengthened its mutually beneficial cooperation with China, laying a foundation for the future with agreements signed during a March ceremony in Paris, witnessed by visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President François Hollande. 

As part of the agreements, Airbus and its Tianjin Free Trade Zone and Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) partners extended the successful joint venture to assemble Airbus single-aisle aircraft in China for an additional 10 years – covering the 2016-2025 timeframe. During this second phase, the Tianjin A320 Family final assembly line’s capabilities will be further developed, as deliveries expand to the whole Asian region, final assembly of A320neo (new engine option) commences from 2017 onwards, and more major suppliers are jointly invited to develop projects in Tianjin. 

The partnership also focuses on accommodating the strong growth of China’s aviation sector with initiatives such as supporting the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) with a state-of-the-art air traffic management (ATM) system, and driving research into regional biofuel and other environmental initiatives to reduce the Chinese aviation industry’s footprint.  In addition, Airbus and relevant Chinese parties are also cooperating to explore establishing an in-country widebody aircraft completion centre.  

In parallel, China Aviation Supplies Holding Company (CAS) and Airbus signed a general terms agreement for the purchase of 70 Airbus aircraft, covering 43 A320 Family jetliners and 27 A330 aircraft, underscoring the ongoing popularity of this widebody airliner in China.

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