The single-aisle product strategy revealed this month by Airbus marks the first public move in what promises to be a fascinating duel with Boeing to provide new designs to replace many thousands of 150-seat, single-aisle airliners. But do not look for new production lines any time soon. With successful airliner families enjoying longevity of 40 or more years [Boeing 737 production was launched in 1965], Airbus believes new designs must, from the day they enter service, represent the latest state-of-the-art technologies in engines, equipment, structures and systems to meet airline demand for ever-lower operating costs.
This has driven the European manufacturer to establish an “A30X” project. According to Ian Dawkins, Airbus senior vice president of strategy and future programs, the company is looking at “long-term, ‘game-changing’ technologies, [including] new configurations, beyond 2025.” At a press briefing earlier this month, Dawkins claimed that none of the upcoming single-aisle airliners–the Bombardier C Series transport, the Chinese Comac C919, or the MS-21 from Russia’s United Aircraft Corp.–will deliver the required technological step change that air carriers need for the next decade.
Encouraging airlines to wait for its new-generation single-aisle offering, Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy said the need is for future technology for future aircraft. “Why would you go now, if you could launch an all-new design in 2025?” he asked rhetorically. Made of composites (about which Leahy says not enough is yet known) and powered by geared open-rotor engines, such an aircraft could offer 35- to 40-percent better fuel-burn per seat, or 20- to 25-percent lower cash cost per seat, than current technology.
But, in case airlines cannot wait, Airbus has started a development study for an A320 new engine option (NEO) that could provide incremental reductions in operating cost. If Airbus offers the A320NEO later this year (for service entry in 2015 or soon after), then Leahy predicts that Boeing “will offer an all-new aircraft for 2020,” preceded by a “737NEO” in 2011. He argued that the A320 triggered the Boeing 7J7 (subsequently replaced by the 737NG in 1993) and that launch of the A380 stimulated its American rival’s Sonic Cruiser (since dropped in favor of the 787).