In just a few days’ time, the great and the good from the aerospace sector will dust off their sharpest suits and practise their broadest smiles in preparation for the start of the Farnborough International Airshow. The event remains an important date in the diary, with all the big players in attendance for what is sure to be a week of full-on corporate schmoozing.
Executives from the civil aircraft makers can look forward to Farnborough with an air of confidence. The commercial aircraft sector has proved to be extremely resilient during tough economic times, and has enjoyed a prolonged production boom as a result of increasing demand for leisure and business travel, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. The growth in the sector shows few signs of abating, with the development and production of next-generation programmes stimulating healthy demand. Indeed, manufacturers forecast that between 26,900 and 33,500 commercial aircraft will be produced over the next 20 years.
In a perverse way, says a global aerospace report from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, the economic environment has acted as a boon for companies such as Airbus and Boeing. “The difficulty in keeping airlines profitable, principally due to the increasing cost of fuel, is generating requirements for more fuel-efficient aircraft,” says the report. “This is driving demand for derivative aircraft that are equipped with next-generation engine technology. The sales order success of the Airbus 320NEO and the Boeing 737MAX have demonstrated that technology innovations can create significant product demand.”
Indeed, the success of the Airbus A320NEO has caught even seasoned aerospace watchers by surprise. The plane offers a new engine option for the A320 family, and will enter service from 2015. It incorporates latest-generation engines, with Pratt and Whitney proposing a geared turbofan while CFM International, the joint venture between GE of the US and Snecma of France, is offering its Leap-X high-bypass turbofan engine.
The aircraft will also feature large “sharklet” wing-tip devices, which when combined with the engine developments will deliver 15% in fuel savings, says Airbus. The reduction in fuel burn is equivalent to 1.4 million litres of fuel – saving 3,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide per aircraft per year. The A320NEO NOx emissions are 50% below CAEP/6 international limits, and the aircraft is claimed to have a considerably smaller noise footprint, as much as 15dB lower.
The new model has 95% airframe commonality, making it an easy fit into existing fleets while offering 500 nautical miles more range or two tonnes more payload at a given range.
The A320 makeover has evidently struck a chord with airlines, which have committed to buying the new variant in surprisingly robust numbers. Only last month Norwegian, a low-cost carrier in Europe, firmed up its order for 100 A320NEO planes, selecting a single-class cabin layout, seating around 180 passengers.