Qantas is counting down to the arrival this month of its first Airbus A220, with the nimble jet now making test flights in the skies above Montreal prior to its official handover and a long delivery flight back to Australia.
Dressed in a special ‘Flying Art’ Indigenous livery which swaps the iconic red tail for an eye-catching green, the 2+ hour round-trips from Montréal–Mirabel International Airport – adjacent to the A220 assembly base - allow Airbus pilots to carry out a number of standard checks of the electrical, navigation and communications systems, at both low and high altitudes.
Executive Traveller understands the current schedule should see this debutante A220 arrive in Australia just days before Christmas, as recently promised by Qantas Group CEO Vanessa Hudson.
And there’s no doubt that Hudson and newly-minted QantasLink CEO Rachel Yangoyan will be thrilled to find a set of A220 keys under the Christmas tree, with the jet – which will replace the creaky old Boeing 717 as a regional workhorse – roundly praised as a win for passengers and the airline.
Travellers will welcome the A220’s modern design, which sprang from a clean sheet approach by Canadian business jet manufacturer Bombardier before Airbus took a majority stake in the aircraft program.
It’s far quieter than the 717, with a greater sense of space and much larger overhead luggage bins – and, we understand, the same fast and free WiFi as the Qantas Boeing 737s and domestic Airbus A330s.
And for Qantas, the A220 bests the 717 for fuel burn, operating costs, emissions and perhaps most significantly, range, which is twice that of the Boeings.
With room for 137 passengers in a two-cabin configuration of 10 business class seats and 127 seats in economy, the A220s will initially take on regional and inter-city routes, such as connecting smaller capital cities like Canberra and Hobart with Qantas’ major hubs in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
But as the fleet grows to its full complement of 29 jets by 2027, expect to see some short-range overseas flights to the likes of New Zealand, the Pacific and South-East Asia. where the efficiently nimble jet has the potential to open up new international routes between cities where there’s currently not enough demand to host a larger Boeing 737.
So there’s no doubt that for a little plane, the nimble Airbus A220 is going to have an outsize impact on Qantas and travellers.
For more on what you can expect from the Qantas Airbus A220, read our detailed guide below.
- Breaking down the Qantas A220 order
- The Qantas A220 delivery schedule
- What’s behind the Qantas A220 project
- The Qantas A220 seatmap
- The QantasLink A220 seat map.
- Qantas A220 business class
- Qantas A220 economy class
- The first Qantas A220
- Where Qantas will fly the A220
- Why the Qantas A220 range makes a difference
- What it’ll be like to fly on the Qantas A220
Breaking down the Qantas A220 order
Qantas’ initial Airbus A220 order is for 29 of the larger A220-300 model, which carries slightly more passengers over longer distances than the smaller A220-100.
However, the airline holds what are called ‘purchase right options’ – which combine a firm price with preferred access to delivery timeframes – to buy additional A220s in either or both versions, “giving Qantas a fleet mix that can deliver better network choices and route economics.”
Between the A220-100 and A220-300, Qantas will have the “flexibility to deploy these aircraft throughout most of its domestic and regional operations.”
“They could be used during off peak times between major cities and on key regional routes to increase frequency.”
However, those A220 options could conceivably include a larger and longer-range A220-500 which Airbus is said to be considering, to slot into the niche occupied by the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737.
The Qantas A220 delivery schedule
After the first Qantas A220 arrives in late December 2023, six more are expected to follow by mid-2025, with all 29 A220s sitting in the Qantas hangars by 2027.
And the A220 will very quickly replace the Boeing 717, with the airline previously stating the final 717 would be flown out of Sydney in July 2024 QantasLink E190s leased from Alliance Airlines will help bridge this shortfall on the 717 vs A220 front.
So is this a Qantas A220 or a QantasLink A220?
Although officially part of the overall Qantas Group, the A220s will carry the QantasLink brand of the airline’s regional arm.
While this makes perfect sense as the A220s take over domestic 717s flying, it seems an odd decision if the A220 ends up heading to international destinations, where Qantas is of course a highly-recognised brand.
What’s behind the Qantas A220 project
Qantas approached Airbus and Embraer about supplying a replacement for the Boeing 717 and the A220 was a clear winner, representing a quantum leap from the Boeing 717 in every measure.
“The A220 is the world’s most modern, small, single-aisle aircraft,” says Connor Buott, Marketing Manager for Airbus’ single-aisle jets such as the A220 and A320 families, who spoke exclusively with Executive Traveller following the announcement of Qantas’ order.
“It's really a state-of-the-art design inside and out, both in terms of the technology that it has on board and in terms of the level of passenger comfort. It's unparalleled.”
The A220 is unique in being a ‘clean sheet’ plane designed from scratch, rather than being based on long-standing aircraft frame, such as the case with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families.
This is because the A220 was developed not by Airbus, but Canadian business jet manufacturer Bombardier.
In a bold gamble to reimagine the regional jet, Bombardier created what it called the C Series: the first completely new single-aisle airplane in its segment in over 40 years.
Airbus cannily acquired a majority share in the C Series program in 2018, rebranding the jet as the A220 to complement its existing portfolio, and it quickly became a favourite of many airlines around the world.
The Qantas A220 seatmap
The Qantas A220 will accommodate 137 passengers – an uptick of 25% over the Boeing 717 – with 10 seats in business class and 127 in economy.
The QantasLink A220 seat map.
Indications are that a divider separates the business and economy cabins, with the best legroom apparently being in
- row 1 of business class
- row 4 of economy class (often held back for top-tier frequent flyers, but available to everyone using the secret T-80 hack)
- row 12 of economy class (the emergency exit row)
Qantas A220 business class
The Qantas A220-300 will feature ten seats in business class, grouped in two-seat pairs as is common on most single-aisle jets – which means two rows of 2-2 and a ‘half-row’ block of two seats at row 3.
Qantas has yet to reveal the design of its A220 business class seats, although like the arrival of the first A220 itself, that can only be weeks away.
A220 business class seats are typically 21” wide – about one inch more than their equivalents on the Qantas Boeing 717, and an inch less than on the Boeing 737.
As to the Qantas A220 business class seats themselves, airlines buying the A220 can choose between a standard seat supplied and fitted ‘off the rack’ or select a model from any Airbus-approved supplier.
Airbus’ go-to business class seat is the Safran model Z600 (shown below), with the Z110i in economy.
These two Safran models “were specifically chosen for the A220 because they make full use of the A220 cabin’s width,” Airbus’ Buott explains, “and of course we work with a large number of seat manufacturers to certify different seats and explore new seat concepts.”
US airline Breeze opted for a customised Safran Z600 in its sizeable A220 premium cabin – and there’d certainly be no whinging if Qantas installed the wide, comfortable and well-appointed Z600 for its own A220 business class.
Qantas A220 economy class
The Qantas A220-300s will have 127 economy seats, arranged with two seats on one side of the aisle and three on the other, plus a kink in the aisle between the business and economy cabins.
Buott calls out the Safran model Z110i economy seat for “a reshaped seatback that really maximise the passenger’s personal space.”
One quirk of this standard Airbus A220 economy layout is that the dreaded middle seat of the ‘triples’ – the rows of three seats – is slightly wider than its neighbours.
“The typical economy seat is over 18 inches wide, but the middle seat is 19 inches,” Buott elaborates.
“This was a deliberate choice by the designers, to give that little bit of extra to that middle seat, and try to make it the most comfortable seat in the aeroplane.”
(By comparison, economy seats on the Qantas Boeing 717 are 17-18 inches wide, with the Boeing 737 at 17.2”.)
However, it’s not known if Qantas has gone with for this particular A220-300 configuration.
“Some airlines have opted for a seating configuration which make all seats the same width and adds that extra half-inch to the aisle instead,” Buott says.
“The slightly larger aisle has a little bit more space for the cabin at attendants, allows you to get two trolleys through the aisle, one past the other, and helps with the airline’s turnaround times as well.”
Qantas is expected to fit seatback video screens from tip to tail, and we’d be surprised if the A220 economy seats didn’t come with individual USB sockets and shared AC outlets.
The first Qantas A220
Most QantasLink A220s will carry the conventional and familiar red-tailed livery, but the very first Qantas Airbus A220 dressed in a striking Aboriginal paint scheme that’s certain to be widely photographed at airports across Australia.
This is the sixth Qantas plane to feature a unique Flying Art livery developed in collaboration with First Nations artists and Indigenous Australian design agency Balarinji.
Around 100 painters were involved in completing the livery, working with 130 stencils to replicate a detailed design by Pitjantjatjara artist Maringka Baker which tells the Dreaming story of two sisters who traverse remote Australia together, covering vast distances to find their way home.
In the tradition of the Qantas Flying Art series, the aircraft itself is named for the artwork Minyma Kutjara Tjukurpa – which literally means ‘the two sisters creation story’ – although all subsequent A220s will be named after native Australian wildlife as voted for by travellers.
(Qantas’ shortlist of some 40 possible names spans from Bandicoot, Blue-tongue lizard and Budgerigar to Cockatoo, Koala, Magpie, Platypus, Sugar Glider and Tasmanian Devil.)
The Qantas Flying Art series was launched in 1994 with the unveiling of the first Indigenous livery aircraft: a Boeing 747 jumbo jet named Wunala Dreaming.
Later additions to the Flying Art family included a Boeing 737 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Where Qantas will fly the A220
Expect to see the Qantas A220s flying anywhere its Boeing 717s and Embraer E-Jets are seen today. That ranges from regional centres to Canberra, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Adelaide.
But the A220’s substantially longer reach spans most of Australia, meaning the jet can be easily swung between regional and intercity domestic routes – and beyond.
“The A220 is such a versatile aircraft which has become popular with airline customers in the United States and Europe because it has the capability to fly regional routes as well as longer sectors between capital cities,” explained former Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce at the time of the A220 order.
“For customers, that means having more departures throughout the day on smaller aircraft, or extra capacity at peak time with larger (A320neo-series) aircraft, or the ability to start a new regional route because the economics of the aircraft make it possible.”
Why the Qantas A220 range makes a difference
As CEO Hudson has previously noted, the A220s “have double the range of the 717s, so you could see us being able to operate a 220 between Brisbane and Broome, Perth-Brisbane, Adelaide up into north Queensland.”
“These aircraft have the potential to change the way our customers travel across the country, with the ability to connect any two cities or towns in Australia.”
As an example, Air Canada flies its A220-300s on the hour-long dash between Toronto and Montreal, as well as the six-hour journey from Montreal to Los Angeles.
The 6,300km range of the A220-300 also brings New Zealand and much of South-East Asia under its wing, bringing the possibility of several new international routes between cities where there’s currently not enough demand to host a larger Boeing 737.
This could even include flights to Asia from Adelaide – a city that’s long been left off Qantas’ international map – while Perth’s A220 radius encompasses Bali, Jakarta, Bangkok, Phuket, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Phnom Penh.
“We talk a lot about the versatility of the A220 when we're pitching it to airlines,” reveals Airbus exec Buott .
“You have Korean Air with A220s doing very, very short sectors, an average of only about 30 minutes; and then you have AirBaltic, Delta Air Lines, Air Canada and JetBlue, who are doing much longer flights.”
“So the A220 is perfectly well suited as a regional aircraft, to do short domestic networks, but it has that longer range capability and the comfort to make the aircraft acceptable to passengers on those longer flights.”
What it’ll be like to fly on the Qantas A220
If you’ve ever flown on an Airbus A350, stepping on board the Qantas A220 will carry comfortable echos of familiarity.
From the modern cabin and large easy-to-operate overhead bins to subtle LED lighting patterns, the A220 is like a fun-sized Airbus A350.
“We love that comparison,” Buott laughs. “You have the same level of technology in both planes, the same innovations such as the use of composite carbon-fibre materials; you have the same advanced engine technology which gives you not just fuel efficiency but a lower noise level.”
All of those hallmarks were on show on an invitation-only demonstration flight hosted by Airbus, which counted Executive Traveller among its guests.
Gone is the cacophony of the Boeing 717 or even the drone of a Boeing 737: this little jet makes little noise.
Not only are the twin engines quieter, Buott says, the cabin is lined with special insulation and sound-deadening materials, “and even the environmental control system and the air conditioning have been tweaked to reduce the noise of airflow within the cabin.”
There’s a sense of openness and space which again belies the A220’s compact dimensions, thanks in part to the size of the windows, which Buott claims “are the largest windows on any single-aisle aircraft.
As we flew lazy loops over Sydney and Canberra, these large Instagram-friendly windows filled the cabin with light, while the cabin’s own LED cycled through blues and greens – a colour scheme of AirBaltic, whose A220-300 has become a show-pony for Airbus.
“The biggest thing that anybody notices when they get on board the A220 is the size of the windows and the amount of natural light in the cabin, “ Buott says.
“You combine that with the very modern interior, with the pivoting bins that slope out of the way towards the ceiling, and you get really this feeling of space, light and comfort within the cabin.”
Those deep overhead bins have room enough for one standard-sized roller bag per passenger – an established sore point on the Boeing 717 – and they swing down lower than you’d expect, making it easier to load and unload those bags.
And even in the A220’s economy class, the standard-issue Safran seats had decent legroom – perhaps more to the point, knee-room – despite what you’d expect from its 32” pitch.
“Seat design has really evolved over the years,” Buott says.
“On all the seats on offer for the A220 they have this re-shaped seat back which gives you a lot more space, especially at knee-level.”