Airbus CEO Doubts Prospects for a Future Very Large Aircraft

 - June 21, 2022, 7:19 AM
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury (Photo: Airbus)

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury sees the development of a new very large widebody to replace the A380 as very unlikely owing to the high price of fuel and airline requirements for utmost efficiency. Speaking with reporters on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting and world air transport summit in Doha, Qatar, he acknowledged Emirates Airline president Tim Clark had expressed concern about the lack of research into the technology needed to develop an economically viable future big aircraft.

“I do not challenge his argument for the need for a new plane with very big capacity, but we see that post-Covid the need for very fuel-efficient aircraft is even more important than before the pandemic," Faury said.  "In that respect, the best response we can give for the moment is a twin-engine aircraft [such as the A350-1000] because that is the most efficient answer we can give.

“Never say never,” Faury added. “Maybe in the years to come there will be some new technology enabling the development of very large capacity aircraft. For now, we need to rely on the current widebodies for very long-distance flights.”  Moreover, the European manufacturer sees a lot of demand for point-to-point services long-range narrowbodies such as the A321XLR Airbus can meet.

Airbus initially planned the A321XLR’s entry into service for late 2023, but it has changed its target to early 2024 due to a delay in closing the type certification of the new A320 variant. The airframer says it has had extensive discussions with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). “We have been very transparent about that,” Faury noted. “A bit of delay is always frustrating, certainly for our customers. But we had Covid, and personally, I am proud that we were able to move things forward.”

Deflecting detailed questions about the range and weight of the aircraft, the Airbus leader stressed, “We are very focused on the flight test campaign, we are deep in the certification process, and our [performance] promise and spec to our customers has not changed.”

The European aerospace group targets a range of 4,700 nm for the A321XLR with a maximum takeoff weight of 101 tonnes (222,200 pounds), allowing for the installation of a permanent rear center fuel tank (carrying 12,900 liters of fuel) and an optional forward-center tank. The aircraft can seat up to 244 passengers in a single–class layout.

The OEM has dedicated four A321XLRs to the flight test program and performed the maiden test flight on June 15 with an aircraft powered by CFM International Leap-1A engines. Plans call for a test aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM engines to make its first flight in the third quarter of 2022. Airbus has sold more than 500 XLRs to 20 customers.

Asked by AIN whether he expects the European Union’s Green Deal and the European Commission’s Fit for 55 legislative proposal will dampen demand for air travel and aircraft, Faury rejected the suggestion. “More and more people want to fly sustainably," he said. "It is up to us, the industry, to provide ways to satisfy this demand.”  Fit for 55 targets to reduce carbon emission by 55 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.

Faury stressed Airbus supports the EU’s decarbonization efforts, noting the OEM made environmental sustainability a key pillar of its platform years ago, but described Fit for 55 as a “mixed bag of measures." He criticized the recent decision by the European Parliament to expand the geographical scope of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) to include all flights departing from the European Economic Area (EEA) starting in 2024. The move will lead to a repeat of the international rows that arose when de EU initially proposed the full-scope ETS in 2012, Faury asserted. “It will again create conflict and risks to derail ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). If there is one global product it is carbon. We need a global solution.”

The current EU ETS covers only intra-EEA flights, but the European Parliament (EP) voted on June 8 to expand the geographical scope. The commission’s initial proposal called for a reduction of the free allowances granted to the aviation sector, to keep applying ETS to intra-EEA flights only, and for ICAO's Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to cover flights originating or terminating outside the EEA.  The EP’s vote is only one step in the EU’s co-decision legislative process. The Council, which represents the member states, still needs to adopt its position on the text and plans to do so at the end of June.

IATA has decried the EP’s vote. Speaking with reporters in Doha, the airline trade body’s regional vice president for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, accused the EU of “recklessly endangering [CORSIA] with their neo-colonialist desire to apply their measure on all flights.”  Rather than undermine the global ICAO plan, he said, the EU should show leadership by promoting it, encouraging more states to join it, and ensuring its effectiveness and fairness. Currently, 107 states participate in CORSIA.