Mention Airbus and Qantas in the same breath and thoughts will likely turn to either the mighty A380 superjumbo, which is now being revamped to make ready for its second red-tailed decade, or the long-legged A350-1000 and its promise of non-stop marathons from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.
Airbus would like to add a third player to that list: the A220. The single aisle Canadian-built jet, formerly known as the Bombardier C Series, slots between the likes of the Boeing 717 and the Boeing 737 (and its own A319 sibling) with room for around 120-150 passengers split into business class and economy.
But don’t think of this as just a short-range regional workhorse. The efficient little jet boasts a big range – around 7½ hours, based on an average 130 passengers.
Business travellers will see more and more of this compact jet in the coming years. It’s already darting around Europe with Swiss, across North America with Delta Air Lines and Asia with Korean Air – and from next year, JetBlue and Air Canada will join that list as they phase out their Embraer E190s.
For Qantas the A220 would line up as a replacement for its regional Boeing 717 and Fokker 100 fleets.
“It’s very similar to the Boeing 717s we have today for Canberra, Tasmania and the east coast,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce tells Executive Traveller, “and there’s a very extensive network in WA and through the centre. There’s a lot of thin markets that haven’t got the volumes for the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A321 that the A220 variants are a good vehicle for.”
Joyce is a fan of almost everything about the A220. “It looks like a very good aircraft, it’s very quiet, and I think passengers will love it. It’s a great replacement to the Boeing 717 – not too dissimilar in configuration, but with a lot more overhead bin space, a lot more space in the cabin, even the toilets are big.”
About the only thing he’s not so keen on is the price, which lists at US$81-US$91.5 million. “What Airbus has to get right is the pricing, it’s priced very high, and for us to buy it it has to be a lot cheaper than the prices we’ve been seeing.”
Given there may be a flock of A220s in Qantas’ future, what is it like to fly in Airbus’ newest jet?
Airbus’ Asia-Pacific A220 demonstration flight – the second leg of which passed through Sydney and Brisbane – was held on an A220-300 from Latvia’s AirBaltic.
AirBaltic chose to kit out its A220s in an all-economy layout of 145 seats, arranged with two seats one side of the aisle and three on the other.
The first few rows are set up as ‘Euro-business class’ with some seats blocked off by a plastic shroud.
Even in economy the A220 has wide seats and decent legroom, certainly enough for me to stretch out my legs despite what you’d expect from a 32” pitch.
Without seat-back video screens, the safety demonstration and ‘moving map’ were displayed on the small LCD panels mounted near the overhead air vents.
In many ways, the A220 is like a fun-sized version of the A350. There’s a definite sense of space, and it’s surprisingly quiet – more like a Boeing 787 Dreamliner than a Boeing 737 workhorse.
Deep overhead bins with room for standard-sized cabin bags will please the carry-on set.
As we flew lazy loops over Sydney and Canberra, the large Instagram-friendly windows filled the cabin with light, while the cabin’s own LED lighting cycled through blues and greens.
As a clean sheet design from Bombardier, the A220 is a state-of-the-art jet which taps modern technology such as a carbon-composite fuselage and parsimonious turbofan engines.
If Qantas signs on the dotted line for the Airbus A220, Joyce expects it would begin flying around the second half of the 2020s.
“The Boeing 717s are very reliable and the F100s are very low utilisation, so there’s no rush, we have a bit of time," Joyce tells Executive Traveller. "But the order books are filling up quite rapidly, so we’d need to make the call in 2020 to get aircraft before the end of the next decade.”