Inside Australia’s next-generation aircraft
The next generation passenger aircraft to potentially replace the ageing commercial fleet servicing regional centres and Pacific island nations made a spectacular maiden test flight over Australian skies today to showcase its potential.
The Airbus A220-300 is the most advanced commercial aircraft of its kind, designed from scratch and featuring a fully digitised intuitive cockpit, composite alloy fuselage and wings and state-of-the-art cabin with vertical walls and large panoramic windows.
Gone is the complex button and dials cockpit and hard metal bodies replaced with iPad-like screens and displays and wings and fuselage made from fatigue-free composite metals, largely titanium and aluminium-lithium making the whole plane lighter.
The futuristic aircraft is already in service with six operators including Delta, Korean Air, airBaltic and Egypt Air.
The airBaltic chartered aircraft, one of the first airlines to buy the aircraft, made the visit to Sydney and Brisbane with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce on-board.
Mr Joyce was joined by a team of his evaluation experts for the Sydney leg, taking a round trip over Parliament House in Canberra.
The aircraft, designed by pilots, is aimed at the mid-market range of 100-150 passengers for flights of six and a half hours or less duration.
Mr Joyce said the A220 aircraft was a consideration to replace his ageing fleet of Boeing 717s and Fokker 100s that largely currently services regional Australia.
Critically, the A220 has 20 per cent less fuel burn and CO2 emissions making it an attractive option for airlines looking to modernise fleets and reduce costs; airBaltic's tail is green to reflect its "clean" emission ambitions.
Mr Joyce said passengers would be impressed by how roomy the aircraft was but the domestic Qantas aircraft replacement was a complex process with "many moving parts" and he was open to all options.
Those options are understood to include other competitors including Boeing and Embraer.
The aircraft has also been pitched to South East Asian and South Pacific airline operators with Vanuatu the first in the region to buy in.
Airbus manager Souren Agopian said the A220 was built for efficiency and with the future in mind.
"The Airbus A220 was designed in the digital age of the iPhones where computing power has increased so much where it can use the latest generation computers but most importantly the latest generation software model that can simulate the floor around the aircraft," Airbus executive Souren Agopian said.
"Based on the amount of data you can put inside you can further optimise and make sure the aircraft is streamlined for aerodynamics and less dragging … We have taken from the 320 and the 737 what pilots like to make the comfort of the 220."
For passengers, it's about comfort and the A220 boasts having the largest cabin for a narrow body aircraft, the widest seats, vertical sidewalls with panoramic windows for more natural light and the largest overhead stowage.
Speaking from the cockpit, airBaltic chief pilot and captain Gerhard Ramcke said: "It's centuries ahead of the others. If you look at the design of whatever else is on the market now you have to think, when have these aircraft been designed? The 737 has been designed well over 50 years ago and the 320 30 years ago so of course this is the more modern aircraft."