A320 ‘Sharklets’ take a nice bite out of fuel burn

 - November 15, 2009, 6:46 AM

Airbus unveiled a much-anticipated advance to its A320 family yesterday when it launched a program to develop new wingtip devices called “Sharklets.” To cost an extra $900,000 installed, the new devices will improve fuel burn on the A320 family by 3.5 percent on “longer” sectors, corresponding to an annual CO2 reduction of some 730 metric tons per aircraft. Airbus COO for customers John Leahy told an afternoon press gathering that the first Sharklets will appear on launch operator Air New Zealand A320s by the end of 2012, followed by the first application on A321s some six months later, then on A319s and, eventually, A318s.   

Dr. Kiran Rao, Airbus executive vice president of sales and marketing customer affairs, explained to AIN that although the Sharklets needed strengthening of the airplanes’ wing boxes and will add some 440 pounds, computer modeling will allow Airbus to shed a corresponding amount of weight from both the wing structure and airframe, resulting in no weight penalty.

He further explained that the Sharklets’ differ from conventional winglets in their contour and shape, resulting in an 1,100-pound increase in payload or 110 nm in extra range, to 3,350 nm in an A320, faster time to climb and up to a 2-percent reduction in engine maintenance costs.

Airbus also estimates that the Sharklets will save operators $220,000 worth of fuel per aircraft per year and result in a  mtow increase of as much as three metric tons. 

Leahy noted that because the Sharklets “are not that easy to retrofit,” Airbus has decided to make them available initially only on new-build airplanes. “We’re looking at what can be done,” he said, adding that Airbus has held talks with Aviation Partners, the company that builds winglets for Boeing’s narrowbodies.

“Some people might ask, ‘What took you so long?’” said Leahy. “Well, we wanted to get it right. Our competitor uses the old standard.”

Air New Zealand plans to use its Sharklet-equipped A320s across its domestic network and, particularly, on longer trans-Tasman sectors. Airline CEO Rob Fyfe said the Sharklets turned the competition for ANZ’s narrowbody tender in favor of Airbus.  

Leahy noted that the 3.5-percent improvement in efficiency comes in addition to the 1-percent benefit the current wingtip fences bring.

The Sharklet installation also keeps the A320 family within ICAO Class C (wingspan less than 119 feet) and will result in higher available takeoff weights, notably from obstacle-limited runways. Moreover, where runway performance is not limiting, operators should profit from a reduction in average takeoff thrust (with consequent savings in engine maintenance costs by around 2 percent), while communities benefit from lower takeoff noise.

This latest development represents part of the larger, continuous improvement program for the A320 family, supported by an annual investment of more than $150 million. To this end, Airbus has conducted a thorough campaign over several years to evaluate improved large aerodynamic devices, using not only Airbus’ company-owned A320 test aircraft, but also its advanced computational-fluid-dynamics (CFD) simulation-tools. Airbus expects to introduce an all-new narrowbody product around 2024, according to Leahy, although an engine upgrade for the current A320s could become available by the middle of this decade.