Airbus' new A320neo will make its maiden flight in Toulose tomorrow, ahead of its planned debut in October 2015 and with a deep queue of airlines eager to take up the fuel-efficient jet.
The only A320neo currently in existence will clock up the first hours of an extensive campaign which will later see it joined by seven more test aircraft – three A320neos, two of the smaller A319neo variant and two of the larger A321neo model.
"The overall purpose of a first flight is to clear the flight envelope – checking speed, altitude and angle of attack – to allow performance, handling and system testing as soon as possible" an Airbus spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller. "The systems will also be checked during the first flight like the engines, fuel pumps, hydraulic, electricity and landing gear."
Although the 320neo is not an all-new aircraft – it's an evolution of the current A320, fitted with new engines and a refined design including large curved wing tips called Sharklets (below) – it will still need to undergo the full gamut of tests including handling qualities, performance and engine testing in high altitudes and extremes of heat and cold.
And it'll need to do them twice over, because airlines can choose between two different engines when ordering their A320neo jets – and the plane has to pass muster when fitted with each type of engine.
"It's very different, comparing from the Airbus A350" noted Fernando Alonso, Head of Airbus' Flight & Integration Test Centre, during an interview at the Farnborough International Airshow earlier this year.
"The A350 was a brand new development with a lot of new technology in the airplane. The A320neo is all about a well-known, proven airframe on which we install a state-of-the-art engine."
"The fact that we are doing this new engine on three different airplanes -the A320, A321 and A319 – and each one of those with two different engines, means six different models have to be certified in a period of one year, so that's a lot of airplanes flying, a lot of flight manuals to be generated, a lot of validation for the different engines and aircraft combinations."
"But everybody is very geared up and motivated, we’re just waiting for the airplane to be available and off we go!"
Airbus estimates that the A320neo family will slash fuel consumption by 15% against the current 'classic' A320, while also offering 8% lower operating costs for airlines and reduced noise levels.
Airbus currently counts over 3,000 orders from airlines around the world, including Air New Zealand’s pledge to buy thirteen of the next-gen jets and Qantas' placeholder for 99 A320neos to update its low-cost Jetstar fleet past 2020.
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