Mobile is Now Home to A220 Production for Airbus

Airbus’ U.S. production capabilities have begun in Mobile, Alabama with inauguration of the completed A220 commercial aircraft final assembly line (FAL).

This 270,000-square-foot facility – which can produce both the A220-100 and A220-300 versions – houses five primary assembly stations where major airframe component assemblies come together for a completed aircraft.

Airbus’ production team in Mobile, Alabama also marked another milestone, welcoming the first component assemblies destined to become an A220 for JetBlue. This low-cost carrier will be the second airline customer receiving U.S.-built A220s when the aircraft is delivered in late 2020. 

“The team is excited to start working in their new facility and to welcome a new customer,” said Paul Gaskell, president of A220 USA and head of A220 Program in Mobile. “It’s a strong endorsement from JetBlue in this challenging time.”

Airbus announced plans in October 2017 for the addition of A220 manufacturing at Mobile – which is situated on the edge of Mobile Bay along the Gulf of Mexico. 

The company began producing A220s at Mobile in August 2019 using space in an existing Final Assembly Line hangar for U.S.-built A320 Family aircraft, and in newly-constructed support hangars. With the start of operations in the dedicated A220 final assembly line, Airbus’ production site in Alabama has now officially doubled in size.

“The expansion of our commercial aircraft production in Mobile – from the A320 Family to the A220 – further solidifies Airbus’ standing as a truly global aircraft manufacturer, and confirms that Airbus remains an important part of the American manufacturing landscape,” added Gaskell.

Mobile, Alabama is the second assembly site for the A220, which is Airbus’ latest addition to its product line of single-aisle commercial aircraft. The A220’s primary production facility and program headquarters are located in Mirabel, Canada, where dedicated functions – including engineering expertise and support functions – also are situated.


VoltAero Unveils Production Version Cassio Hybrid-Electric Aircraft

VoltAero has revealed the production configuration for its Cassio aircraft, which they say will “revolutionize general aviation with a highly efficient, safe and optimized family of airplanes powered by the company’s hybrid-electric power module.”

Cassio utilizes VoltAero’s hybrid-electric power module in an aft fuselage “pusher” configuration, integrating a cluster of electric motors with a high-performance internal combustion engine that serves as the range extender. The powertrain currently is being validated on VoltAero’s Cassio 1 flight test aircraft, ensuring a high level of maturity for certification and production.

“The Cassio production design’s unveiling represents the latest step in our realistic and highly pragmatic creation of an all-new aircraft family,” said Jean Botti, VoltAero’s CEO and chief technical officer. “It benefits from our team’s unmatched experience in hybrid-electric aviation, as well as the ongoing full-scale flight testing that removes the risk as we move toward the production phase.”

VoltAero’s proprietary Cassio design is based on an aerodynamically-optimized fuselage, a forward fixed canard, and an aft-set wing with twin booms that support a high-set horizontal tail.

Cassio will be offered in three versions, each sharing a high degree of modularity and commonality:

  • Cassio 330, a four-seat configuration with propulsion from a combined hybrid-electric power of 330 kilowatts;
  • Cassio 480, configured with six seats and a hybrid-electric propulsion power of 480 kilowatts;
  • Cassio 600, with a 10-seat capacity and hybrid-electric propulsion power of 600 kilowatts. Cassio aircraft will be produced at a purpose-built final assembly line in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of southwest France, with VoltAero leading a world-class team of partners and suppliers. Licensed production opportunities will be pursued in North America and Asia.

Initial deliveries are targeted for the end of 2022, beginning with the four-seat Cassio 330 version.

Cassio says their family of airplanes is tailored for operation by private owners, air taxi/charter companies, in commercial flights for point-to-point regional travel, and in various utility-category applications. Cassio will be certified to Europe’s EASA CS23 certification specification as a single-engine, general aviation category aircraft.


  • Autonomy: 3.5 hours (extension possible to 5 hours)
  • Range: 800 miles
  • Cruise speed: 200 knots
  • Take-off/landing distance: less than 1,800 feet
  • Maximum takeoff weight: Under 2.5 metric tons (EASA CS23 certification)
  • Availability: 10 hours/day (equivalent to approximately eight rotations daily)

Pittsburgh International Airport to Become first U.S. Airport to Utilize Autonomous Robots with Ultraviolet Light Technology

Pittsburgh International Airport is looking to the region’s vibrant tech community to help incorporate a new disinfecting strategy using ultraviolet light – on robots. 

This partnership with Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Robotics is the first step of an airport-wide strategy to deploy technology solutions and multi-layered cleaning processes to enhance the health and safety of the traveling public. The technology is designed to kill microbes in high-traffic areas, increasing cleanliness and helping to restore confidence in traveling.

PIT is the only airport in the United States with these specially equipped floor-cleaning machines, and airport officials look to incorporate UV disinfecting technology in additional ways, including the sterilizations of handrails on escalators and moving walkways, elevator buttons and other high-touch areas.

“We appreciate the ongoing partnership with Carnegie Robotics, one of the great organizations which calls our region home,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “The Airport Authority is always at the forefront of technologies and, in this case, is using these Carnegie Robotics innovations to protect passengers and staff and enhance the travelers’ experience.”

The pandemic’s impact on the aviation industry has been dramatic, with passenger traffic falling more than 90 percent as social distancing and stay-at-home orders remain in effect. As part of the solution, PIT hopes to speed the industry’s rebound through technology solutions.

“The health and safety of airport staff and the traveling public are always the top priorities,” said Pittsburgh International Airport CEO Christina Cassotis. “We know that restoring confidence in travel is going to be key to the industry recovery. That’s why we’re partnering with world-leading Pittsburgh technology companies to help develop solutions.”

Developed in conjunction with Pittsburgh firm Carnegie Robotics, Nilfisk’s Liberty SC50 Autonomous Scrubber/Dryer is a commercial-grade, fully autonomous, robotic floor-cleaning machine. 

What makes the airport’s system unique is the integration of a UVC fixture that emits intense ultraviolet rays on the floor, sanitizing the surface after the scrubber has cleaned it. Hospitals and laboratories have used ultraviolet light as a disinfectant for years, and now Pittsburgh International Airport and Carnegie Robotics are testing that technology to safely treat public spaces in the U.S. airport sector.

“Carnegie Robotics is thrilled to work with the Allegheny County Airport Authority to rapidly test and develop this technology, which was designed to combat healthcare associated infections (HAIs) such as C. Diff., MRSA and other resistant pathogens in medical facilities,” said Daniel Beaven, Carnegie Robotics CFO. “I can’t overstate the importance of a motivated and competent user-partner to rapidly develop new technology. The Airport Authority has repeatedly demonstrated leadership in this way and we could not be more pleased to be here.”

The airport is currently testing the autonomous scrubbers with Carnegie Robotics in the terminals, and officials expect them to be deployed soon as part of the airport’s daily cleaning routines.


VELO3D Raises $28 Million in Series D Funding Round for Expansion

Digital manufacturing innovator VELO3D announced today that it has raised $28 million in a Series D funding round. New investors Piva and TNSC joined the round, along with existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Playground, and Khosla Ventures. This brings VELO3D’s total funding to $138 million.

“With the VELO3D integrated solution of Flow advanced pre-print software, Sapphire printer, and Assure quality management software, companies can finally break free of the constraints of existing metal additive manufacturing processes,” states Benny Buller, founder and CEO of VELO3D. “Customers in industries such as aerospace, oil & gas, and power generation are now able to achieve part quality for their mission-critical applications with performance levels that weren’t possible before with 3D metal printing.”

VELO3D plans to use the new capital to expand its product portfolio to include more machine options, compatible alloys, and enhanced software and hardware capabilities. The company anticipates that the injection of fresh capital will help them reach sustainable profitability by mid-2022.
Piva is the largest investor in the new round and has a strong heritage in industrial markets, as they are backed by Malaysia-based PETRONAS, one of the world’s largest energy companies.

“VELO3D is revolutionizing the way we think about advanced manufacturing today,” said Ricardo Angel, CEO and managing partner at Piva. “We have been impressed by Benny, the team and their breakthrough technology that will have a significant impact on the efficient design and manufacturing of more complex components, previously unattainable, with clear commercial traction already in the aerospace and aviation markets. VELO3D will lead a new wave of more resilient, distributed manufacturing capabilities for its most critical components, which the world will need to ensure local product availability and timeliness, while mitigating potential future worldwide disruptions.”


Swift UAS Teams Break New Ground in Japan

Teams from Swift Tactical Systems, in partnership with its Japanese counterpart, Swift-Xi, both subsidiaries of Swift Engineering, completed personnel search and rescue and animal identification missions as part of a contract with Okayama Prefecture in Japan. The proof of concept program validates Swift’s unmanned aerial systems and capabilities under unique scenarios. First, the team’s ability to perform advanced search and rescue missions in dense forests, and second, the system’s ability to quickly detect, identify, and track the nighttime movements of animals that are destructive to the region. 

The joint Swift teams flew integrated unmanned vehicle systems including, Swift air vehicles with mounted NightHawk2 cameras streaming live video to ground control. The operations teams demonstrated superior workflow capabilities during the day and nighttime missions. They exceeded performance expectations by identifying half a dozen animals during one-night flight and finding three separated, lost hikers in a heavily wooded area during another mission. 

“Our teams proved that our combined military expertise and advanced UAS technology with real-time intelligence and data gathering capabilities are a powerful force in the industry. We were able to cover a 550-acre area and find all of our targets in less than 35 minutes,” says Alex Echeverria, vice president of Swift Tactical Systems.

While this is the first time Wake-Cho is testing unmanned systems and technologies to perform tasks commonly addressed by humans on foot, it is not the first time Swift teams have provided real-time intelligence to government officials in Japan. Swift Tactical Systems and Swift-Xi recently completed multiple contracts for Kobe City. Government officials there are using Swift’s unmanned aerial systems and teams to track environmental changes such as landslide monitoring, seawall shifts, algae blooms, and invasive species, all of which pose risks to its aging population.

“As Japan’s population rate steadily declines and its aging workforce continues to rise, government officials and the private sector are looking for ways to manage critical tasks that are traditionally performed by people on the ground. We are proud to support government officials and private sector visionaries who are looking ahead to ensure the safety of Japan’s population and its future,” says Rick Heise, president and CEO of Swift Engineering.


Honeywell Releases Urban Air Mobility Industry Survey

The market for urban air mobility aircraft systems is heating up quickly, a new industry survey by Honeywell and Avionics International Magazine shows.

Some 30 percent of professionals in the avionics industry report their companies are actively developing products for the urban air mobility market, and more than half of those already have products in flight testing, according to the survey

Urban air mobility refers to a new breed of quiet, short-range aircraft, usually electrically powered designs that can take off and land vertically. More than 200 such aircraft are now in development, according to the Vertical Flight Society.

Honeywell has quickly become a leading supplier, offering autonomous flight technology and other electronics, actuators, propulsion and environmental controls designed for these new aircraft. And its airport management systems, power systems and software solutions like Honeywell Forge aim to make UAM reliable, affordable and safe.   

But the survey shows Honeywell isn’t the only company interested. Nearly a quarter of the 313 avionics professionals surveyed said their companies now have a dedicated team working on UAM products – and some of those teams numbered more than 100 people. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The Honeywell survey also asked respondents about the types of products under development, the organization of their teams, funding sources and expected revenue.

Want to learn more? Download the Honeywell-Avionics International white paper, “Avionics Momentum Building for Autonomous Air Taxis,” and check out all the products, videos and articles on Honeywell’s urban air mobility page


Daedalean Awarded Multi-Million Euro Grant Under the Horizon 2020 Program

Zürich-based Daedalean, a startup developing autonomous dynamic flight control systems, was selected as one of the European deeptech champions and will receive a €2.3 million EIC Accelerator grant from the European Innovation Council. It is listed among the 75 SMEs and startups who will receive funding under the pilot phase of the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator.

The projects were selected from the 1852 applicants, which makes them the top 4% of the European tech champions. The total funding raised by Daedalean has now exceeded €17 million

Daedalean became one of the latest recipients of the grant awarded by the European Commission under its EIC Accelerator Pilot programme. The EIC Accelerator is the new SME instrument – a funding program for Small and Medium Enterprises launched in June 2019 as part of Horizon 2020, the EU’s Framework Program for Research and Innovation.

The program is highly competitive. Only 180 projects of the 1852 filed were invited for interviewing, and only 75 of them will receive financial support. The project proposed by the Swiss startup to the EIC jury in Brussels is the next phase of its development of the autonomous flight control instruments aimed to enable safer and denser use of the airspace by eliminating dependencies on humans. The eventual goal of the company is bringing full autonomy to the air, which is considered the key enabler for the urban air mobility market emerging at full scale in the near future. “For Daedalean, receiving such an award marks its technology and the path to the market being assessed as disruptive and potentially having a huge impact for the European air mobility industry,” says Anna Chernova, the co-founder of the company. The EIC Accelerator jury noted in their evaluation summary report on Daedalean, “This is a highly strategic technology for the European market.”


Optimized Flight Routes for Climate-Friendly Air Transport

Last month, the new project “Greener Air Traffic Operations” (GreAT) held its launch event at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Flight Guidance in Braunschweig, Germany. This European-Chinese research and innovation project aims to reduce the impact of air transport on climate change.

The project focuses on new strategies aimed at greener flight routings. The group say these will be achieved through “innovative air traffic guidance concepts and optimized operations on airports, in the terminal control area and during cruising flight.” The concepts will consider various factors such as atmospheric conditions and real-time airspace constraints. An intense air-ground data exchange is one of the pillars of this approach. In contrast to previous optimization strategies, GreAT will not focus solely on efficiency and capacity. Instead its focal point is the reduction of the environmental impact of air transport, a crucial part of future air traffic management.

The GreAT project will be conducted in collaboration with seven European and six Chinese partners. Researchers will investigate optimization strategies for short-haul flights on the European side and long-haul flights on the Chinese side.

The partners will develop and evaluate more flexible airspace structures as well as more predictable guidance principles, supported by next-generation assistance systems. This will allow for a better compromise between the shortest routes and conflict-free traffic pre-planning. In addition to initial conceptual work, comprehensive validation activities are planned, which will make use of the simulation capabilities and expertise that are available in the project consortium. The knowledge gained during this work will be exchanged and published to further support research and development after the project has been completed.

The official project kick-off was attended by all the European members of the consortium. During the two-day meeting, the international partners planned and communicated the project activities and discussed the steps needed to achieve the milestones on time.

In addition to DLR, which is acting as project coordinator, the consortium consists of HungaroControl – Hungarian Air Navigation Services (Hungary), Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM, Spain), L-UP (France), Royal Dutch Airlines (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij; KLM, Netherlands), the Italian Aerospace Research Centre (Centro Italiano Ricerche Aerospaziali; CIRA, Italy), and Pildo Labs (Spain) on the European side. On the Chinese side, the Chinese Aeronautical Radio Electronics Research Institute (CARERI), the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the Civil Aviation University of China (CAUC), the China Electronics Technology Avionics Company (CETCA), the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronic Engineering (NRIEE) and the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA) are participating in the project.

An advisory board will support the project. It consists of the air navigation service providers Deutsche Flugsicherung GmbH (Germany), Austro Control (Austria) and LFV (Sweden), together with the suppliers Harris-Orthogon GmbH and ATRiCS Advanced Traffic Solutions GmbH (both Germany), the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) and Lufthansa (Germany).

Are you ready for the roaring ’20s? Taking a look at newer and emerging platforms By Thom Patterson

Are you ready for the roaring ’20s? Taking a look at newer and emerging platforms By Thom Patterson

It’s truly an exciting time in aviation history. The convergence of ultra-efficient engines, revolutionary building materials and an increasingly global economy is creating a virtually unprecedented era.

The past decade has seen first flights for several new designs as well as significant technological improvements for variants of already existing types.

What flew for the first time in the 2010s? Here’s a quick list:

Single-aisle airliners include Bombardier’s CS100 and CS300, later to be acquired by Airbus and rebranded the A220-100 and A220-300, as well as the A320neo and A321neo. Also, the 737 Max flew for the first time this past decade.

Now the world awaits word on when the grounded airliner will be certified to fly again.

Also entering service in the 2010s were several wide-body twinjets – such as the two successful main variants of the A350-XWB family and Boeing’s 787-8. Eventually all three Dreamliner variants earned success during the decade.

As we roar into the ’20s, the new decade promises to bring additional platforms aimed at supporting skyrocketing projections for passengers and cargo.

Embraer will spend this year and next working to certify its E175-E2, after its maiden flight last December. 2020 has already seen the first flight of Boeing’s 777-9X — a 21st century improvement on the beloved 777. Plagued with delays — the first Japanese-made commercial jetliner — Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet M90 — could finally be delivered to its launch customer ANA next year.

Airbus’s freakishly large Beluga XL flew its first operational flight this past January. Eventually five more of the transport airplanes are expected to be produced.

Also this year, the fate of the beleaguered 737 Max is expected to play out — an unprecedented scenario that has forced hundreds of jets to sit fallow on the ground since March of 2019.

With so much activity, it seems like a good time to take a look at how some of the newer platforms are faring. But let’s also scan the horizon for what new designs and variants lay ahead.

Airbus A350-XWB

Let’s start with the wide-bodies. With two years of service under its belt, the A350-1000 has gone a long way toward earning the title “king of the long haulers.” Built to fly at least 350 passengers more than 19 hours without refueling, the A350-1000 has been proving itself on marathon non-stop routes like Hong Kong-Washington Dulles and between Doha and Houston, Texas.

Airbus Image
Airbus Image

Qantas Airlines announced last December it has tentatively chosen the A350-1000 for its Project Sunrise ultra long-haul routes in excess of 10,000 miles beginning in 2023. Possible routes could fly between Perth and London and between the Australian east coast and London or New York City.

The carrier specifically called out the A350’s reliable Rolls-Royce XWB engines as a factor in its decision.

If the final decision by Qantas gives the program a green light, Airbus plans to increase the aircraft’s fuel capacity and MTOW.

No word from Airbus about whether it plans to build a stretched version of the -1000. “Airbus is always studying how we can evolve our aircraft family portfolio,” said Airbus spokesman Martin Fendt. “The recent selection by Qantas of the A350-1000 – over the competing 777X – for their ‘Sunrise’ requirement is one of many examples that Airbus is adopting the right strategy.”

The final decision, says Teal Group aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia, may come down to weight.

“The 777-8X is a good plane,” Aboulafia said. ”Ultimately it’s got a heavier structure and greater weight than the 777-9X, so the A350-1000 probably has the advantage. But we’ll see.”

Boeing 777-9X

Speaking of the 777X, the program achieved an important milestone last January 25, when the jet flew for the first time.

The 777-9X variant — distinguished by its extreme length and wide wingspan — took off from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, and flew for 4 hours before landing at nearby Boeing Field in Seattle.

Boeing Image
Boeing Image

“The 777X flew beautifully,” said chief test pilot Capt. Van Chaney shortly after touching down. Testing continued into February with typical flights clocking ground speeds around 400 mph and reaching maximum altitudes from 14,000 feet to nearly 21,000 feet.

The 777X design aims to save fuel with large, light-weight, carbon fiber wings which are produced in gigantic pressurized ovens at Boeing’s Everett factory. The fuselage is aluminum, saving the 777X from steep production costs incurred by the carbon-fiber fuselage Dreamliner.

Boeing says the 777X – powered by all-new GE9X engines — will be 12% more fuel efficient and deliver 10% lower “operating economics” than its competition. It’s interesting to note that General Electric has proclaimed the GE9X as the largest turbine engine in the world – with a diameter big enough to fit the fuselage of a 737.

In fact, the 777-9X is now the world’s largest twinjet, seating about 425 passengers and offering a range of more than 8,200 nm.

Aboulafia is excited about the new platform. “But it’s going to have fantastic costs for that size class,” he said. “Eventually the market will look again at larger planes. It’s just going to take a while to play out. But when they do, that design is going to be in its own unique category.”

Airbus A330-800

Another wide-body, the Airbus A330-800 is the world’s newest large airliner to achieve type certification. The fuel-saving twinjet achieved a joint stamp of approval in February from the EASA and the FAA.

Expected to enter service later this year, the -800 is the second of Airbus’s two A330neos (neo stands for New Engine Option), both of which sport fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines. Overall the -800 burns 25% less fuel than older competing models. The larger A330-900 won certification in 2018.

Airbus Image
Airbus Image

Compared with the earlier A330 types (-200ceo and -300ceo, Current Engine Option) the A330neos offer longer range and higher seating capacity. The -800 comes with a range of up to 8,150 nm and typically seats up to 260 passengers in three classes.

Contributing to its range and efficiency, the -800 also boasts a new wing design and light-weight, super-strong carbon composite Sharklets.

While the platform is based on that of the already very efficient A330ceo wing, they are quite different internally and externally.

“The A330ceo wing contains elements carried over from the four-engine A340 airliner – in the form of provisions for the mounting of the A340’s outer-wing engines and pylons,” Fendt said. “In the A330neo however, these structures were removed altogether from the design, saving considerable weight and reducing cost and complexity.”

Another significant change on the A330-800, Fendt said, includes new 3D spanwise “wing twist” aerodynamic efficiency optimization applied to the wing design.

The Sharklets add as much as four meters to the overall span compared to the A330ceo, according to Airbus.

“What’s really interesting is that with this span extension, the A330neo’s wing achieves an efficiency-boosting aspect-ratio of 11.3 – higher than any commercial airliner in operation today, even counting the Boeing 787,” Fendt said.

Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner

Nearly a decade after Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner first entered service, sales for the game-changing carbon-composite wide-body have been slowing down.

Last October Boeing announced it would reduce Dreamliner production from 14 to 12 each month and reports say the company is considering further cuts.

Nonetheless, in February, Dreamliner launch customer ANA announced new orders for nine 787-9s and 11 of the largest variant — the 787-10. Both variants are powered by GEnx engines.

The lightweight carbon-fiber fuselage and wings and the fuel-saving powerplants give these jets a range between 6,400 nm and 7,600 nm, burning 20% less fuel than older competing models. The -8 models seat around 240 passengers in two-classes. The -9 seats nearly 300 passengers while the -10 variant – manufactured in Charleston, South Carolina – seats about 330 passengers in a two-class configuration.

The airframer said it expects output to eventually bounce back in a few years, supported by projected market growth in Asia and airlines looking to replace aging wide-bodies. In Southeast Asia alone Boeing is predicting 4,500 planes will be needed over the next 20 years.


When you take an Airbus A330 airliner and turn it into one of the world’s largest transport aircraft, people sit up and take notice.

Airbus Image
Airbus Image

That explains all the attention in January, when the first Airbus BelugaXL went operational.

Eventually Airbus hopes to build five additional BelugaXLs, which boast the largest cargo bay cross-section of any cargo aircraft. All six BelugaXLs are expected to be in service by 2023.

The BelugaXL is designed to ferry huge Airbus components (such as wings for the A350) from production facilities to assembly locations in Hamburg, Germany; Tianjin, China; and Toulouse.

Powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Trent 700s, BelugaXL is the big brother of the original Belugas — the Airbus A300-600ST aka BelugaST — which entered service in 1995.

There are five BelugaSTs and Airbus says their future is “under consideration” — but the planes could continue flying for another 10-20 years.

Single-Aisle Sensations

The aviation industry continues to buzz about last June’s announcement that Airbus is taking its A321LR single-aisle airliner and adding extra fuel tanks to extend its range by up to 700 nm (1,300 km).

Expected to enter service in 2023, this new long-range variant powered by CFM International LEAP 1A engines will boast a range of up to 4,700 nm (8,700 km) while burning 30% less fuel per seat than previous generation jets built by competitors.

Passenger capacity will be 180-220 in a two-class configuration. To handle extra weight from the added fuel the XLR’s landing gear will be re-engineered to be more robust.

Airbus offered some insight about how that idea began and how it came to fruition.

“Clearly, when we first offered the A321 we engineered-in a capability for growth in the future,” Fendt said. “However, exactly how we would develop and ‘incrementally innovate’ this aircraft family, and in which direction, was something that we would reassess as the market requirements evolved over time.”

What directly led Airbus to move forward with the XLR was airline feedback that showed a market for an aircraft that could fly farther “and create more value by bringing 30% lower fuel burn per seat than the previous-generation competitor aircraft – such as the out-of-production Boeing 757,” Fendt said.

Airbus is selling the A321XLR as a lower-cost, single-aisle aircraft suited for longer and less heavily travelled routes. Many of those routes can now only be served by larger wide-bodies, which are less efficient for those types of operations.

“We all knew the A321 had a lot of potential,” said Aboulafia. “What’s interesting about the XLR and the A321 in general is just how much more you can do to it, like new wings and new engines.”

Aboulafia points out the potential of even more development of the A321. Imagine a “220- to 240-seat jet with 5,000 nm range,” he said. “There’s just so much route development that can take place with that kind of product.”

A380 Production Ending

In fact, there’s a connection between the A321XLR and the world’s largest passenger jet, the Airbus A380.

When production ends for the A380 in 2021, its assembly line in the Lagardere production facility in Toulouse will be converted to produce the A321XLRs.

It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed since the first A380 took flight. During that time, more than 240 A380s have rolled off the assembly line.

The new A321 line at Lagardere will be “digitally enabled,” Airbus said. It’s a step toward Airbus’s goal to modernize the entire A320 production system.

Described as a “next-generation final assembly line,” it’s expected to be ready by mid-2022. Airbus says it will “optimize industrial flow” by increasing A321 production capacity as well as flexibility.

Adding the new Toulouse line will increase the number of A321 assembly plants to three, including the current German facility in Hamburg and the U.S. plant in Mobile, Alabama.

The A321XLR’s acquiring of the A380 production facility is an appropriate turn of events in light of current market trends, Aboulafia said.

Who would have thought that the development of long-range single-aisle airliners would have such industry-wide repercussions? Increased fuel efficiency and longer range are allowing for the fragmentation of larger routes that are the lifeblood of high-capacity airliners like the A380.

“Route fragmentation throughout the globe is still playing out and it’s a far more long-term and profound process than I ever would have guessed,” Aboulafia said.

“We all knew route fragmentation was bound to kill A380, right? But what’s amazing is it just keeps going down and down and down and planes just keep getting smaller and smaller. Right now of course the big beneficiaries are the 787 and A350, but you’re starting to see it trickle down to the A321 a little. You could argue that the most promising aircraft right now in this environment is the A321XLR.”

New Boeing Clean Sheet?

Planes like the A321XLR put pressure on Airbus’s rival Boeing to embark on a new clean sheet design as a way to compete.

“At this point it’s clean sheet or nothing,” Aboulafia said. “In other words, do you cede the fastest growing market in aviation to Airbus? Or do you do something new? There’s no third choice.”

For years Boeing officials have been talking about the possibility of an “NMA” – a new midmarket airplane aimed at a 225-seat jet and a larger airliner seating 275.

This past January, Boeing’s new CEO Dave Calhoun, said: “The NMA project is going to be a new clean sheet of paper.”

But reports suggest the NMA project is being shelved. Instead, Boeing may be considering a new 200- to 240-seat design with a range of 4,700 nm to compete with the A321XLR, according to Aviation Week.

“If Boeing moves quick, they can offer a product that really does outflank the A321 — maybe a plane that gets 5,500 nm — something along those lines — with 220-250 passenger capability,” said Aboulafia.

“I’m not really clear what the technological enablers are for that,” he said. “Will they go with composite wings and a metal tube? Whatever they’re going to do, they’ve got to do something. Otherwise they basically give 10 or 15 points of the market share to Airbus.”

Troubles with the Boeing 737

You can’t talk about Boeing now without including the airframer’s unprecedented troubles with the 737 Max – which have been grounded by aviation authorities worldwide since March 2019 after two tragic crashes killed 346 people.

The idea behind the Max was to create a new line of 737 variants by augmenting existing designs with new efficient CFM International Leap-1B engines that changed the 737’s traditional aerodynamic characteristics.

The 737 Max’s new flying characteristics were to be offset by anti-stall software called MCAS – the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System – which has been blamed for the crashes — Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 less than five months later.

This past January, Boeing said it was temporarily halting all Max production, while the plane maker and the FAA work to fix the problems with MCAS.

A year after the historic grounding of the 737 Max – including the -8 and -9 variants – it remains unclear when the type might be re-certified by the FAA and re-enter service.

“… we are currently estimating the ungrounding of the 737 Max will begin during mid-2020,” Boeing said in a statement in January. “Returning the MAX safely to service is our number one priority, and we are confident that will happen. We acknowledge and regret the continued difficulties that the grounding of the 737 MAX has presented to our customers, our regulators, our suppliers, and the flying public.”

Other problems have been reported with the 737 Max during the grounding, including a wiring issue and the discovery of foreign object debris inside fuel tanks.

“I’m still bullish on at least the -8,” said Aboulafia, who suggests rebranding the plane without the word “Max.”

“The -9 and -10 appear to be very badly unmatched by the A321,” he said. “But I think the -8 will be around for a solid dozen years in production. It’ll do its job.”

737 Next Generation

The grounding came shortly after Boeing ended production of passenger versions of its previous 737 line – known as 737 Next Generation. 737 NGs garnered more than 7,000 orders during a 22-year run.

Boeing Image
Boeing Image

Then, more bad news for the 737: The discovery of hairline cracks last year in structural features called “pickle forks” prompted the FAA to order inspections of all 737 NGs.

Pickle forks connect the fuselage with wings and landing gear. So far, inspections reportedly have revealed cracks in pickle forks in only a small percentage of 737NGs.

Airbus A220

Air Canada is the latest customer flying Airbus’s A220-300 – the single-aisle clean-sheet designed by Bombardier. It took delivery of its first A220-300 last December, the first of 45 on order and the first carrier in North America to operate the type. JetBlue is scheduled to begin flying the first of its 70 ordered A220-300s later this year.

Before Airbus bought controlling interest in the A220 program in 2018, Bombardier had branded the plane the CSeries. The CS100 and CS300 were described as the first clean sheet design of a large, single-aisle airliner in nearly 30 years.

The A220’s unusual wing construction process involves infusing its carbon-fiber reinforced wings with liquid resin.

Airbus Image
Airbus Image

Air Canada’s A220-300s seat 137 passengers in two classes. The smaller A220-100 — operated by Delta Air Lines and Swiss International Air Lines — seats from 100-120 in a dual-class configuration. Both types have a range of about 3,400 nm.

Airbus says the jets are the “quietest and most eco-friendly aircraft in its category,” thanks in part to efficient twin Pratt & Whitney PW1500G geared turbofans. The A220 has more than 650 orders so far. More than 100 A220s are currently in service among six operators.

Regional Jets

Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet M90 regional airliner — which was scheduled to enter service this year — won’t be delivered to launch customer All Nippon Airways until 2021, Mitsubishi announced in February.

The 90-seat jet and a smaller SpaceJet type called the M100 which seats 76 passengers in a three-class configuration have been beset with production delays, bureaucratic miscues and cost overruns since the program launched in 2008. Both variants are engined with Pratt & Whitney PW1200G PurePower Geared Turbofans. The M100 is expected to enter service in 2024.

“The market will definitely want another next-generation regional jet,” said Aboulafia. “I think SpaceJet will have a decent future as long as Mitsubishi sticks with it.”

New E-Jet E2

Another new regional airliner — Embraer’s E175-E2 — flew for the first time last December, kicking off a 24-month testing program.

Seating 80 in a two-class configuration, the E175-E2 is the third jewel in the Brazilian plane-maker’s crown of of E-Jet E2s. The jet is powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofans.

The E175 was preceded by the larger E190-E2 and the E195-E2. Embraer boasts about their lower maintenance costs and fuel-saving benefits.

Other Newcomers

China’s state-owned airplane manufacturer Comac (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) has been working to bring products to market since 2008.

Comac Image
Comac Image

Comac has delivered more than 20 ARJ21-700 regional jets so far, exclusively to Chinese operators, including Chengdu Airlines, Genghis Khan Airlines and Jiangxi Air.

This aircraft, which seats 90 passengers in an all-economy configuration, is powered by twin, rear-mounted GE CF34 engines.

“It’s incredibly relevant – for 1986,” Aboulafia quipped. “It’s exactly what happens when you have government-owned enterprise designing a science fair experiment.”

Comac also has been working to put a larger single-aisle passenger airliner into service. The C919 — which completed its first flight test in 2017 — is designed to seat about 150 passengers. It’s outfitted with wing-mounted CFM International Leap-1C engines. A Chinese-built AECC CJ-1000A high-bypass turbofan engine is also being developed for the C919.

The C919 has more than 1000 purchase commitments and more than 300 firm orders, primarily from inside China. It’s expected to enter service with launch customer China Eastern Airlines as early as 2021.

Irkut MC-21

After a maiden flight in 2017 and several production delays, Russia’s Irkut MC-21 single-aisle twinjet is expected to enter service in 2021.

It’s powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1000G high-bypass turbofans — which also fly Airbus’s A220, Embraer’s E-Jet E2s and Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet.

Designed by Irkut, the MC-21 is manufactured by United Aircraft Corporation, which is partially owned by the Russian government.

All in all, it looks like the roaring ‘20s are gearing up to be a dynamic decade for the aviation industry. We’ll keep you posted.


Ultra Defense Corp Acquires MAST Technology

Ultra Defense Corp (UDC) of Tampa, Florida has completed the acquisition of MAST Technology, Inc. of Warrensburg, Missouri in a transaction that closed Feb 29, 2020.  MAST Technology was founded in 1990 in Las Vegas, Nevada and remains a key fixture in the defense industry.  

UDC will enhance its dominance in the domestic and international markets by adding the exquisite and specialized Department of Defense manufacturing capabilities of MAST. “In combining the well-established competencies of UDC and MAST we have aligned both entities under the National Security Innovation Base.  This is the first step of many towards accomplishing our goal of becoming a key supplier of next-generation overmatch capability to the US warfighter supporting the National Defense Strategy and Great Power Competition,” said UDC CEO Matthew Herring. 

UDC-MAST will operate as a new division of UDC and remain in Warrensburg. It will continue to load, assemble and pack items like 40mm munitions, small caliber ammunition, M81 igniters, and numerous other niche products.  Additionally, UDC-MAST will focus on its proven roots in ammunition manufacturing methods and equipment enabling development and production of next-generation ammunition and pyrotechnics.  A significant physical expansion of the Warrensburg operation is planned in the coming months.  

Jay Bell, former CEO of MAST, will stay on and serve as the General Manager of UDC-MAST.  “I am unbelievably excited for future opportunities.  Matt’s experience, knowledge, and integrity are well established in the defense community.  Matt and I together are going to be a very formidable combination.  I believe we can multiply our capabilities and obtain exponential growth.”

The addition of the MAST team further expands UDC’s growing portfolio of products and services.  UDC’s US Government customers include Army Contracting Command – New Jersey, United States Special Operations Command, US Army Aviation and Missile Command, US Army Tank, Automotive, and Armament Command, and other classified customers and programs enabling current and future national security requirements.  UDC’s contractor base has expanded to over 50 key sub-contractors around the globe.  UDC’s core business areas remain centered on providing non-type qualified ammunition, small arms, and weapon systems to the US military and allied militaries worldwide.


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