Airbus A220 Creating a Buzz in the Middle East

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Making its first appearance at a Dubai Airshow since adopting its current moniker, the Airbus A220-300 on display here in EgyptAir colors embodies the kind of operational flexibility Middle East carriers particularly covet, according to Airbus A220 product marketing director Raymond Manougian. Speaking with AIN just days ahead of the start of the show, Manougian highlighted the ability of the former Bombardier C Series jet to replace Embraer 190s on regional routes—in a fashion reflected by EgyptAir’s replacement strategy—while covering long, thin narrowbody markets in the way Air Tanzania has done with its Dar es Salaam-Mumbai ETOPS flights and Air Baltic with its six-and-half-hour service between Riga and Abu Dhabi.

By the middle of next year a 5,000-pound increase in maximum takeoff weight and a resulting 450 nm range extension will add still further capability to an aircraft uniquely positioned—in Airbus’s estimation—to profitably fly 100 to 160 passengers between the Middle East and far into Western Europe and Asia.

“If we look at EgyptAir, that’s able to do a regional operation,” said Manougian, “but at the same time it has the flexibility and the range the regional [airplanes] didn’t have…and the flexibility to connect two far-flung destinations that don’t necessarily have the market size to fill a large single-aisle airplane like the A320 or A321.”

While he said it remains too early to meaningfully gauge the dispatch reliability of the five A220-300s EgyptAir now flies (the airline took its first airplane on September 5), he reported that the airline has expressed satisfaction with their performance. “EgyptAir is extremely happy in the early going, [judging by] the limited feedback that we’ve had,” he noted, adding that early routes connect a few secondary markets in Saudi Arabia and key markets in Egypt such as Sharm El Sheikh. Now flying five of the 12 A220s it has ordered, EgyptAir expects to have taken all its airplanes by the middle of next year.

Air Tanzania, meanwhile, recently doubled its initial order to four A220s after a year of what Manougian characterized as more than satisfactory operational performance.

Neither airline, however, has experienced any of the engine problems that caused recent in-flight shutdowns at Swiss International Airlines, which resulted in a 24-hour grounding of that fleet. While the shutdowns—traced to a problem involving the low-pressure compressor—remains under investigation, Transport Canada airworthiness directives require boroscope inspections every 15 flight cycles and place a low-speed spool limitation of 94 percent of N1 at altitudes above 29,000 feet. Operators have conducted initial inspections on all of the A220s in service and have found no anomalies, according to Airbus.

Apart from the low-pressure compressor issue, Pratt & Whitney expects to complete the remaining improvements to the A220’s PW1500G turbofans, including installation of a full-life combustor, sometime next year. What will become the engine’s fourth-generation combustor will last 25,000 hours, compared with the current generation’s 13,000 hours. Meanwhile, Pratt has finished fitting all PW1500Gs with new liftoff seals, a redesign of which has resolved premature wear problems.

While technical “teething problems” persist to a degree, the A220 hasn’t suffered from a lack of accolades for its fuel-burn performance or interior space, which Manougian cited as a particularly important attribute for Middle East operations. “If you travel around the region, you know that passengers carry a lot of bags and cargo,” he said, noting that the A220’s relatively large bins and cargo area give the Airbus a distinct advantage over regional jets in Middle East sales campaigns.

Separately, Airbus’s 2018 takeover of what then-Bombardier called the C Series has in itself given the program a boost in the region, said Manougian. “There is an added buzz or interest with the partnership with Airbus,” he noted. “As Airbus is much more present in the region, with its wide array of products, we’ve seen a much bigger interest in the A220 than before.”

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