Dubai Airshow

Airbus Presents Updated Airliners to Middle East Carriers

 - November 11, 2017, 1:40 AM
Etihad Airways brought its Airbus A320 Flying Testbed to the Dubai Airshow 2017. Among other technologies, the aircraft is being used to demonstrate new high-speed broadband connectivity for in-flight use.

While Emirates Airline is widely expected to announce a follow-on order for the Airbus A380 at the Dubai Air Show today, the A380 Plus revealed at Paris is just the latest update plan for an Airbus type, with many updates of its other aircraft already well into testing or entering service. The OEM expects more sales will follow, with this week being the best opportunity it has to end the year on a high note.

Before October's first flight of the re-engined A330neo, Airbus test flying this year mainly focused on continuing clearance of A320neo variants. Activity ranges from the A380 flagship, for which flight-testing might be needed for an enhanced "Plus" variant, to the A319neo that will remain in certification testing until 2019.

The Airbus Flight and Integration Test Centre in Toulouse is engaged in continuing development of the entire current family. "We are constantly flying prototypes—we have 14—to test improvements," according to Airbus.

A320neo

As Airbus continues A320neo (for new engine option) development, it has dropped plans for a second A319neo test airframe. The initial A319neo—manufacturer's serial number (MSN) 6464—is in its eighth month of flying with CFM International (CFMI) Leap-1A powerplants that will be replaced with Pratt & Whitney (P&W) PW1100G-JM geared-turbofan (GTF) engines late next year.

The manufacturer told AIN that it has enough test information from new engines fitted on A320neo and A321neo models. The new, more-efficient engines replace CFMI CFM56s and International Aero Engines V2500s on earlier variants now dubbed A320ceo (for current engine option) models.

"We will use one [A319neo]," Airbus said. "We have enough return on experience with the [first neo variants] and, given the high level of [A320 family] commonality, one aircraft was sufficient." Accordingly, because MSN 6464 will be re-engined with PW1124G-JMs after Leap-1A24 certification flying, which has gone "very well," the planned second test A319neo (MSN6620) has not been built.

Until the A330neo first flew on October 19, this year's Airbus flight-testing had centered on A320neo variants, with 4,000 flight-hours having been logged by mid-year. Alongside the A319neo, this work involved four A320neos and two A321neos, the alternative engine installations in the latter groups being split evenly.

Airbus said that because all engine-related certification flying had been performed with the A320neo, work on the larger A321neo and smaller A319neo has focused on engine-integration considerations. While the A320neo meets more recent certification standards, the manufacturer needed to "retune" fly-by-wire flight-control computers, which has included introduction of tail-strike protection for takeoff.

Initial A320neo MSN6101 has been dedicated to PW1100G-JM maturity for much of this year, which work will continue in 2018 alongside system testing for continuous airworthiness, said Airbus. A321neos MSN 6673, the Hamburg-assembled second P&W-powered example, and MSN 7877 should continue flying until mid-2018 for Category III automatic-landing development. The latter machine is also being used for Cabin Flex interior configuration.

Cabin Flex introduces new emergency door arrangements that, combined with a higher maximum takeoff weight, permits operators to accommodate up to 240 passengers for shorter-range high-density services, or to fit a third belly fuel tank allowing trips of up to 4,000 nm with about 206 passengers.

A330neo

Airbus flew the re-engined A330neo—or A330-900—variant for the first time on October 19, with plans calling for a second example to follow shortly after to support certification. During last year and the first half of 2017, Airbus had flown some planned improvements during a 130 flight-hour program with A330ceo (current engine option) MSN871, including validation of upgraded flight-control laws, systems de-risking and initial checks of the manufacturer's Airspace cabin components.

Airbus plans a 1,100 flight-hour campaign with test aircraft MSNs 1795, 1813, 1819 and 1888. Three machines feature a medium flight-test instrumentation fit, while first-production airframe MSN 1819 carries less equipment as the Airspace cabin-installation aircraft.

The first flight was used to assess handling, check systems and expand the flight envelope up to 30,000 feet before checking performance in approach configuration at height before landing.

A340

The A340 twin-aisle quad-jet has reentered flight-testing. Since September 26, A340-300 prototype MSN 001 has been conducting the first part of a 150 flight-hour campaign that could produce significant drag and fuel-consumption reductions.

The outer-wing sections have been replaced with natural laminar-flow units for the Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe (BLADE) program. The first element of the A340BLADE campaign, expected to be completed by year's end, covers assessment of aircraft handling, flight envelope extension, and initial natural laminar-flow measurement, according to Airbus Research & Technology senior v-p Axel Flaig. Next year's second flight-test series will "extensively test and characterise laminarity robustness in representative operational conditions."

A350

As the newest Airbus design, the A350 large twin-aisle twinjet is very much part of the Toulouse test scene, with recent experiments involving alternative winglets. "As part of continuous improvement, we are undertaking tests to study a modified wing-tip, [which] remains a development study," according to Airbus. "It is too early to report any findings. Everyday testing is a normal part of evaluations. Feedback, new developments, research and technology are all sources for further improvement, even though not all ideas are adopted commercially."

The A350-1000—the largest twin-aisle Airbus—recently completed functional and reliability testing as the manufacturer prepared for formal type certification this month. Other recent scheduled testing for A350-1000 MSNs 059, 065, and 071 has included: remaining certification flights (involving performance and handling qualities, autopilot and braking and landing performance); cross- and tail-wind testing; and engine air-inlet distortion and transients.

A380plus

Airbus said that flight-testing for a mooted A380Plus enhanced variant, for which a development study was revealed five months ago, would not require protracted trials. A relatively short two-aircraft campaign would assess and certificate handling qualities and performance improvement.

Changes being considered include "wing twist, new fairings, and sharklet [wingtips]," which could offer up to 4 percent fuel-burn savings, according to Airbus. "We need to assess impact on aero/structure-coupling behavior and measure fuel saving…with the improved aerodynamics."

Much of the overall improvement would arise from consolidation of previously revealed upgrades, including 4.7-meter winglets, an optimised maintenance programme and enhanced cabin features that contribute to a claimed potential 13 percent cost per seat reduction.

BelugaXL

Flight-testing of the BelugaXL, an A330-200-based transporter to carry major subassemblies, is scheduled to begin during 2018's third quarter. A 10-month certification program will involve the first of five planned aircraft, which is to be fitted with full flight-test instrumentation.