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Airbus sharklets certified on time with better fuel figures

The Airbus money making machine, the A320 with ‘sharklets’ passes its first tests.

The A320, with the fins that turn smoother air into money: Airbus photo

Airbus said overnight that it had achieved better fuel savings from the A320  ‘sharklet’ wing tips in their initial certification program than it had set as its goal, which was the result it had to get to keep its customers satisfied.

In fact the 4% reduction in fuel burn it says the devices have achieved is around double the benefit first mentioned to the aviation industry some years ago when Airbus broke the news that it was thinking of refining its A320 family for one last hurrah rather than moving to an all new 150-250 passenger series of jets to replace the current line-up.

It was at the time, a decision that was resisted by Boeing, which stuck to its view that what was required was an immediate shift to an all new concept, until Airbus began selling so many of what it called its NEO or new engine option A320s that it had to come out with its 737 MAX series, which is due for first deliveries late in 2017, two years behind the first of the revised and refined A320s.

The result is that both Airbus and Boeing are now talking up an all new design for your bog standard A320/737 sized jet by the middle of the ’20s, which appears to be when the capabilities of new materials technology in alloys and composites will match the original hype that both manufacturers were putting out until about 2005, when contrary voices began to cut through to their marketing divisions.

What Airbus has done with the initial certification of the sharklet equipped A320s is to complete the first but lesser stage of that refinement process. Most of the benefits it is selling with the NEO series are derived as the tag says, from new technology engines now under development by America’s Pratt & Whitney firm, and the French-American consortium, CFM International, which is the only supplier of engines to the current series of 737s and will keep that monopoly on the 737 MAX line.

The total benefit of the new engine options for the A320 plus the sharklets is promised by Airbus to mean a single aisle short to medium range jet which is at least 15% more frugal in typical operations than its current line, and where applicable, provide emissions scheme credits yielding additional financial advantages to airlines above and beyond reduced fuel bills.

Boeing is pursuing exactly the same goals. Airbus and Boeing are already behaving like spoiled infants not only over the future merits of NEOs and MAXs, but their current A320s and 737s, for which the global appetite by airlines, but especially in Asia, seems to be insatiable.

Airbus isn’t waiting for the promised new engines to be ready either, but will be offering the sharklets on current A320s from about now, with the very first of them delivered to AirAsia, which hopefully doesn’t distract the Malaysia low cost airline franchise from sorting out its safety standards.

This is what Airbus said in its blurb:

Tom Williams, Executive Vice President of Programmes at Airbus says: “The certification of Airbus’ Sharklets is a milestone which paves the way for airlines to benefit from savings in fuel of around four percent. That’s better than we’d anticipated.” He adds: “The annual greenhouse gas emission reduction per aircraft equipped with Sharklets will be approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 – that’s equivalent to taking 200 cars off the roads.”

For the flight test campaign, A320 Family aircraft with both CFM56 and V2500 engines have recently taken to the skies with Sharklets. When complete, this flight testing will represent approximately 600 flight-hours spread over 9-10 months. Certification of the remaining aircraft/engine variants with Sharklets will therefore follow in the coming months. By the end of 2012, Air Asia will become the first airline to take delivery of Sharklet-equipped A320s.

Due to the very strong customer demand for Sharklets, all Airbus’ single-aisle final assembly lines (FALs) will be engaged in building A320 Family aircraft with Sharklets. These FALs are located in Toulouse, Hamburg and Tianjin and will soon be followed by an additional A320 FAL in Alabama USA.

Sharklets are large devices made from composites and are 2.4 metres tall. Attached to the A320’s wing-tip during the assembly process, they reduce fuel burn and emissions by improving the aerodynamics of the aircraft. As well as cutting airlines fuel bills, Sharklets will add around 100nm range and also allow increased payload capability of up to 450kgs. Sharklets are an option on new-build aircraft, and are standard on the A320neo Family.

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  • 1
    ggm
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    option on new. ok. that I can understand. adds price? bummer. so, presumably priced to make 4% fuel savings deliver an outcome but how many flights nm distance to achieve it?

    ie, is the company now rooking airlines for a feature which could have been designed into the base price anyway? why would you NOT want these? shorthaul can be repurposed to long, and suddenly ‘not cost effective’ is making 4%..

    retrofit? same Qs. whats the income loss time, vs benefit?

    “everything has a price but climate change is forever” comes to mind here: sure, we’re money focussed but less fuel is less carbon.

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