Why Has Airbus Created neo Versions Of Planes?
The Airbus A320 is the best selling Airbus aircraft and not far behind the Boeing 737 for most popular to date. One of the successes of the series has been the regular updating with new models and features. This has included the development of ‘neo,’ or New Engine Option, variants. This article looks at why Airbus did this and what the main differences are.
A320ceo and A320neo families
The A320 first flew in 1988, with launch customer Air France. This first model was soon followed by the longer A321 in 1994, the shorter A319 in 1996, and the A318 in 2003. These new models came with minimal structural modifications and similar cockpit design and operating procedures.
his has been a major advantage for airlines, lowering operating and maintenance costs and allowing pilots to operate aircraft across the fleet.
By 2006, Airbus began looking for ways to offer a more efficient narrowbody aircraft. Customers were looking for this in new orders, and other manufacturers were heading towards offering it. Rather than develop a new aircraft model, Airbus focused on changes to the existing A320 family.
After some developments offering efficiency gains with modifications including winglets and weight savings (through the A320 Enhanced, or A320E, program), they soon moved to the development of new variants for the whole family, known as A320neo, or ‘new engine option.’ The original family then became known as A320ceo (for ‘current engine option’).
Beating the competition
In its coverage of the development, the New York Times reports how it was not just competition from Boeing that led to these changes but also from other manufacturers. They explain:
“Analysts said Airbus’s decision was likely motivated more out of concern about the challenge posed by smaller rivals from Brazil, Canada, China, and Japan. They are all developing their own jets with the same engines as the A320neo and up to 150 seats, bringing their capacity and fuel burn within striking distance of Airbus’s biggest money maker.”
These competing aircraft included the Bombardier C Series (of course later to become the Airbus A220) and the C919, being manufactured by Chinese company COMAC.
New engines and more efficient operation
These potential competing aircraft offered new engines and more efficient operation, and that was the focus of the A320neo development.
The main difference, of course, is in the new engines. The A320neo uses CFM International LEAP-1A or Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines. Compared to the A320ceo engines, these offered a reduction in maintenance cost of 20% and a reduced fuel burn of up to 60%.
Other improvements introduced with the A320neo include:
Introduction of sharklets. These curved wingtips (also used by Boeing on the 737) offer a fuel burn reduction of up to 3.5%.
New, enlarged cabin design. With changes to the rear galley, toilet design, and new seat layouts, the A320neo offers additional cabin space (but the number of seats, of course, depends on the airline’s chosen configurations).
Improved range. The A32neo range is 6,850 kilometers, compared to 5,700 kilometers for the A320.
Overall, the A320neo offers (according to Airbus) up to 15% total fuel saving over the A320ceo. And, as with the members of the original A320ceo family, Airbus maintained cockpit and airframe consistency. The A320neo offers a 95% airframe commonality with the A320.
A popular choice
Overall, this offered a good upgrade option for airlines, for a price increase of around $10 million ($110 million initial list price).
Some airlines were slower to move over to the neo family, perhaps partly as many of the improvements (except the engines) could be fitted to existing A320ceo, bringing some of the efficiency gains at a lower cost.
Over time, the A320neo has proved to be popular for Airbus. Moreover, in September 2019, Airbus delivered its 9,000th A320 family aircraft – to the British-based airline easyJet.
Not without its problems
Despite their popularity, the A320neo aircraft have not been without their problems. There have been issues reported since 2018 with Pratt & Whitney 1100G engines. This has affected several airlines in India. We also reported how a Lufthansa aircraft suffered engine failure in early 2020. Qatar Airways have switched their A320neo orders to include CFM engines in light of this.
There have also been problems with the aircraft’s center of gravity, leading to several airlines having to block the last row of seats.
Of course, any problems with aircraft is worrying. But so far, the A320neo has not seen anything like the scale of issues faced by the Boing 737 MAX. With their ongoing grounding, perhaps the A320 will head to the top spot for the most purchased narrowbody faster.