Alongside preparations for the re-engined A320neo, Airbus is continuing A320 product development, according to A320 family chief engineer Wolfgang Engler. Some 23 years after A320 MSN0005 pioneered the type’s airline service with Air France, the manufacturer claims a 99.7-percent “operational reliability” for the most recently delivered 250 aircraft. Middle East low-cost carrier Air Arabia’s A320s are said to be achieving almost 14.4 hours of daily utilization with others, including Air Asia, EasyJet, JetBlue Airways and Tiger Airways, logging more than 10 hours per day on individual aircraft.
Maximum takeoff weight for the standard A320-200 has been progressively increased from the initial 162,000 pounds to 172,000 pounds, accompanied by improved engines and aerodynamics. Sharklet-equipped A320s being delivered next year will have higher weights.
With an A320 reaching the 48,000-flight-cycle design service goal for the first time during 2011, Airbus is working to establish extended service goals (ESGs). Other original “life” parameters were 60,000 flight hours, reached by the lead aircraft in October 2007, and 25 years, which the original Air France aircraft will reach in February 2013.
In an initial move dubbed ESG1, intended to permit 60,000 cycles and 120,000 hours, Airbus conducted 120,000 simulated flights on four major fatigue specimens–forward fuselage, center fuselage and wings, rear fuselage and engine pylon–in Toulouse and Munich. The new limits are likely to be attained by lead aircraft in 2017 and 2022, respectively. Testing has been continued through a further 60,000 simulated flights necessary to establish the 90,000-cycle/180,000-hour ESG2 goal.
An interim service goal for high-time aircraft that reduced the cycle limit to 37,500, while extending accumulated flight time to 80,000 hours (with an attendant inspection of the tailplane) was approved in 2007. The ESG program excludes A320-100s and the 30 A320-200s fitted with four-wheel landing-gear bogies.
Engler said that full-scale fatigue tests are complete, related structural analysis is “on schedule” and a service-bulleting package has been defined. Airbus is establishing dossiers to support justification for life extensions to critical aircraft systems, with 85 percent of work completed with suppliers. ESG1 is expected to become available next year.
Also by June, Airbus expects to have certified an A320 electronic flight bag option that permits the flight crew to plug a large variety of laptop computers into a docking station via Arinc 828-compliant wiring. Future plans call for the following goals to be addressed: to increase flight-crew situational awareness through an on-board airport-navigation system that displays an airport moving map with aircraft position information; to improve go-around decision-making using an A380-derived runway overrun prevention system equipment); and to enhance pilots’ reactions to traffic-alert and collision-avoidance system warnings.