Airbus Improves A220 Range, But Does It Matter?

Filed Under: Misc.

The Airbus A220 (formerly known as the Bombardier CSeries, though in the meantime Bombardier has sold their whole stake) has proven to be incredibly popular with both airlines and passengers. Airlines have already ordered 530 of these planes, and Airbus hopes the order book will increase significantly over time.

Why the A220 is so popular with airlines and passengers

There’s a lot to love about the A220, regardless of whether you’re an airline or a passenger.

From the perspective of airlines:

  • The plane fills a gap that isn’t otherwise being served, as the two variants of the A220 have between 100 and 150 seats, give or take; this makes the plane larger than regional jets, but smaller than the A320 and 737
  • The A220 is incredibly fuel efficient, at least 20% more fuel efficient than previous planes serving that market
  • The plane has incredible range, and can fly 3,000+ miles nonstop, making it versatile

airBaltic A220-300

From a passenger’s perspective there’s also a lot to love about the plane:

  • The plane has many of the comforts you’ll find on an A350 or 787, while still being a narrow body
  • The A220 is in a 2-3 configuration, so there’s only one middle seat in each row
  • The A220 has a quiet and modern cabin

Here’s my experience flying Delta’s A220 first class, to give you a sense of what it’s like to fly on the plane.

Delta A220-100 cabin

Airbus announces A220 range improvement

Airbus is making big improvements to this plane without even technically relaunching it. Airbus has announced that the A220 will be offering increased range starting in the second half of 2020.

Essentially Airbus is able to increase the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of the A220 by 2,268kg. This is being achieved by taking advantage of existing structural and systems margins, and increasing existing fuel volume capacity.

With this change:

  • The A220-100 will have a maximum range of 3,400nm
  • The A220-300 will have a maximum range of 3,350nm

For both the A220-100 and A220-300, the maximum range of the plane is being increased by about 450nm.

As Airbus’ Chief Commercial Officer describes it:

“In true Airbus tradition we improve our products constantly. This new MTOW will allow operators to reach markets which today cannot be served by other small single-aisle aircraft types.”

What routes does the A220’s increased range open up?

Obviously Airbus hopes that this increased range will result in more orders for the plane. Airbus points out that this increased range will allow airlines to operate new routes from Western Europe to the Middle East, or from Southeast Asia to Australia.

We’ve also heard quite a bit about the possibility of airlines using the A220 for transatlantic operations. With the previous range of the plane, operating transatlantic flights was right at the margins, while now it could easily be done.

For example, take the 3,350nm range on the A220-300 (which is the shorter range of the two planes). With that increased range all kinds of routes are easily possible from the US East Coast to Western Europe (this map shows a 3,350nm range from Boston).

Yet interestingly in Airbus’ press release they talk about the potential to fly from Southeast Asia to Australia, and the potential to fly from Western Europe to the Middle East.

Why aren’t transatlantic flights mentioned? Because it seems the demand just isn’t there. Airlines are already using planes like the A321 and 737 for transatlantic flights, and those are considered to be low capacity planes for transatlantic flights. So I guess operating even smaller planes has limited appeal.

Bottom line

Airbus improving the range on the A220 even further is quite impressive. In fairness, though, the plane already offered really good range.

While the A220 is a fantastic plane, and while there are a lot of “long and thin” routes out there, I do think demand for operating these planes on 3,500+ mile flights is fairly limited.

I’ll be curious to see just how many airlines take advantage of the A220’s incredible new range.

What do you think — is there demand for airlines to operate 3,500+ mile flights with 100-150 seat planes, or do the A320/737 family aircraft have that covered?

  1. How do these improvement work? Is it like a new version of the same aircraft, a software update, or they’ve just realized the airplane can fly longer/heavier?

  2. Seems like a pitch to the AirAsias and Fly Dubai’s of this world. Lots of low yielding demand in China and Southeast Asia pointing at Australia so maybe that’s a market for it if the economics work.

    Also could work on some Australia to Pacific island runs where the connections are important but they don’t justify a 737-800 every day.

  3. I can’t really think of many transatlantic routes that could take advantage of this. Most major northeast US cities are already well connected to major cities in Western Europe.

    There are a few flights where I could see this working like BOS-SNN (but that’s going to end up A321LR). But, I think the cabin is too narrow for an all-business layout.

    Maybe niche operators like Icelandair or Azores AIrlines could take advantage and add some destinations, but I think adding another fleet type is a bit outside those carriers comfort zones.

  4. I think there’s probably some pent-up demand on some transatlantic where a smaller plane would sit pretty. There’s a revolving door of airlines trying flights between regional capitals like Brussels, Cork, Manchester and Edinburgh to Boston, Montreal, and other cities not called New York. Big airlines could use these routes to take pressure off their main hubs.

  5. Airlines had no option for a 737 Max 8&9 replacement, unless you wanted to wait a decade for a delivery slot. Bomabardier is now producing 4 a month in Mirabel, with a max capacity of 10 a month. Hence, Airbus has quietly offered a replacement for the Max’s (which do have an extra 150 miles over the A220) which can be had a lot sooner then the A320 family.

    I’ve also been told by some people working at Bomb., that the plans for a -500 is well in the works, but Airbus doesn’t want to cannibalise A320 orders, like what happened to the A319.

  6. @Gabriel

    They are doing it with an updated SCAP – Standardised Computerised Aircraft Performance.

    So yes, it’s basically a software and performance update and there are no structural changes.

  7. Hopefully Jetblue can do London City to JFK with the CSSeries. That would be awesome and would solve the LHR slot issue. Lucky do you think this would be feasible?

  8. @Kevin H
    I see no similarity between the DC-9/MD-8x series and the 220. Either you are mistaken or my mind has gone to sleep. The engines on the wing would be one indication that they are dissimilar airframes.

  9. Gonna bet that someone’s emailed the folks at Airasia already. Also can see many, many intra Asian city routes using this.

  10. This just screams JetBlue for the BOS/JFK routes. they can fly right into LCY with these 220’s now. the BA1 route looks ripe for price cuts now.

  11. Well, it’s my understanding that JETBLUE is ordering versions of this aircraft for trans-Atlantic flights to London.
    I love Jet Blue to Aruba and the west coast 0on the 320/321 but I think this aircraft is too small to be in for 7hrs or so.
    Also what if the aircraft has to be rerouted and it’s almost at its max distance then what?

  12. @charles – blame it on Trump, or whoever started the tarriffs and tax issues for it. That prompted them to look for a buyer who could fight that battle. US Policy gave this to Airbus…

  13. @Izz – the issue with LCY is the length of the runway so can’t take off fully loaded so they would need to stop off somewhere – like the BA LCY-JFK service using the A318 refuels at SNN (and also offers pre clearance)

    @Narwaid – BA usually sells CWLCY for the same price (+/- a could of quid) as their LHR and LGW flights

  14. Great question from Izz. Can the A220 fly from LCY to say Boston without a refuelling stop?

  15. Ben,

    There is something wrong with your Max Range of the A220 out of Boston: BOS-CDG is 3,461 and BOS-Germany, Switzerland or Scandinavia are far more.

  16. @ Pierre — That’s statute miles, not nautical miles, unless I’m missing something?

  17. What makes you think this is a popular aircraft?

    It is by all accounts a well designed, new tech model, but it has not sold well. Bombardier launched the program in 2008 estimating 20 year market of 6300 units of which they expected to get half, or 160/yr. In the eleven years it has been on sale fewer than 50/yr have been sold, about 30% of forecast. Lack of sales was one reason Bombardier gave the program to Airbus for $1.

  18. I had my first experience of an A220-300 last week – with Swiss where naturally I expected good things.

    The reality was I was glad to get off because the level of cabin noise which the Maitre de Cabine told me was normal on the A220 was terrible, way too loud, like having aircon on super power throughout the flight. Engine and other noise was OK but the cabin noise was horrible.

    Compared to an A320neo the A220 needs huge improvments. The airlines may love it but I’ll be avoiding it for the foreseeable future.

  19. Interesting. Somewhat similar to the original B707 and DC8 proposals that had 5 across 2nd class seating, except this flies with 2 engines instead of 4 engines.

  20. I agree with a few other commenters mentioning the JFK-LCY route. I think Delta and JetBlue could both apply to fly that one as they are both slated operators of the A220. I also see where Icelandair could benefit from this. However, I think this is also an attractive plane for European ULCCs operating out of tertiary airports that cannot handle large aircraft. They can now look at flying point to point long hauls. I can also see this serving cities like Trondheim, Cork, Belfast, Glasgow, Gothenburg, etc. from Boston or New York.Those cities don’t have the volume for even an A321, but the fares might be advantageous. Same from US East Coast to many cities in Northern South America.

  21. I believe it’s good news for some airliners. The low cost carrier Air Arabia that operates from Sharjah now days flies to Moscow and other Russian and Eastern Europe destinations, but also in Morocco, Africa. Their narrow body is an only A320 fleet. This means they will be able to fly more routes. I do think out there there’s more like them that will welcome the news and might make use of it.

  22. I’d love to see BA or some other airline use it on the LCY to JFK route

    If JetBlue wants to shake up the transatlantic market they could do worse than flying the 220 straight into LCY

  23. I believe three airlines would benefit from the increased range of the A220 in their respective markets.
    Air Asia
    Fly Dubai

  24. @ Ben:

    You may have a point, especially considering that it puts Helsinki right on the borderline, which then is probably true.

    Since “La Poste” bought 2, supposedly for its VIP charter activities, expect to see your pet flight between Paris and St Pierre & Miquelon operated with it in the future, maybe even with a 2nd weekly frequency (which would be good for tourism; I have been there, and there’s REALLY not enough to keep one busy for a full week. By the way, did you ever take and review that flight?

    One more point: It probably makes the A220 a very good competitor among the larger Business Jets.

  25. Great news for those of us who live in Hawaii or those who love visiting since most western mainland cities would be within range on this great little aircraft.

  26. In terms of transatlantic, I’m thinking about BA1/2, the capacity of A318 usually is a bit too much for this particular route.

  27. Want to second @Phil … flew AirBlatic A220 in the back of the cabin and the noise was overwhelming. Was unusually noticeable even with earplugs. I would not want to be stuck on a transatlantic flight in it.

  28. More range just means more possibilities, whether today or in the future, making the aircraft a bit more valuable.

  29. If lipstick on a big was an allegory for making something good great then yes you are right. How much are Boeing paying you?

  30. If Airbus is investing to expand the range capabilities of the A220, then it reasonably follows that both existing and potential customers (currently under sales campaigns) are requesting the increases in MTOW and range. Airbus would not otherwise make the investment without some level of certainty ie) simply with a hope that this will attract more customers. We will see orders for this new A220 variant from both existing customers with options and for new orders yet to be formalized and announced- Probably at the Paris Airshow.

  31. A 220 new range a-game changer- : non stop
    Honolulu to: Kansas City, Calgary, Denver, Dallas, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Houston, Phoenix and all the cites on the westcoast.
    Any city from Pensilvania Massachusetts, Maryland or new York to any city in the Uk and Ireland.
    All Germany, France, Spain and northern Italy from Boston.
    Any city in India to Korea and some others to Japan
    Cancun to any city in the United states,
    Anchorage Alaska to Tampa fla.
    From Florida or Texas to any city in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Northern Brazil .

  32. Delta are phasing out the MD 80/90 for the A220. But they have had problems with a lot of the sensors. Plus they make this loud whale like sound.

  33. By no means can it be a good idea for Chinese airlines to operate AUS-CHN route by A220, only if they only operate to Darwin. If you want to get to Brisbane, you need to fly at least 4,000 miles, which cannot be covered by A220’s range.

  34. Moxy Airline business model is based exclusively on serving the “long and thin” routes. So yes, the extra range is a big win. I don’t buy into the belief that there is no interest for the A220 on transatlantic routes.

  35. “Delta are phasing out the MD 80/90 for the A220. But they have had problems with a lot of the sensors. Plus they make this loud whale like sound.”

    That whale like sound is the sound of the engines spooling up. Only happens when the plane takes off. Its a Vulcan sound that some jet engines make and to me its a sweet noise.

  36. Before we get too euphoric about the C100, C300, A220 let’s examine the reason Bombardier was willing to hand it over to Airbus, they couldn’t make money on the project. Despite a C$ 1Billion hand out from the Canadian government along with C$ 1Billion from Quebec Bombardier couldn’t see any potential for a profit.
    Airbus exec’s have been trashing the aircraft for the last 10 years and now it’s their baby obtained without exchanging a single dollar or Euro.
    It’s a $20 million aircraft that costs $30 million to break even, sure all new aircraft are sold at a loss for a few years before they become profitable but this is ridicules. It also makes the A319neo redundant. Did Airbus obtain the A220 to kill it off? We’ll see.

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