Qantas could buy the Airbus A220, so here's what it's like to fly

Executive Traveller steps onto a special Airbus A220 invitation-only charter flight for a one-hour spin above Sydney.

By David Flynn, October 29 2019

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.

The Airbus A220 is like a "fun-sized" version of the A350.
The Airbus A220 is like a "fun-sized" version of the A350.

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.”

On the A220's Sydney stopover, Airbus dressed the plane to impress.
On the A220's Sydney stopover, Airbus dressed the plane to impress.

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.”

Airbus' A220 tour takes in the headquarters of many potential customers.
Airbus' A220 tour takes in the headquarters of many potential customers.

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 was the A220's launch customer.
AirBaltic was the A220's launch customer.

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 A220 adopts a 2-3 seating layout.
The A220 adopts a 2-3 seating layout.
The A220 adopts a 2-3 seating layout.
The A220 adopts a 2-3 seating layout.

The first few rows are set up as ‘Euro-business class’ with some seats blocked off by a plastic shroud.

'Euro-business' class on AirBaltic's Airbus A220.
'Euro-business' class on AirBaltic's Airbus A220.
'Euro-business' class on AirBaltic's Airbus A220.
'Euro-business' class on AirBaltic's Airbus A220.

Of course, how airlines configured the A220 is up to them: Delta Air Lines and Air Canada (below) opted for a dedicated business class cabin with reclining seats similar to those of a Boeing 737.

Air Canada's more conventional Airbus A220 business class
Air Canada's more conventional Airbus A220 business class

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.

Slimline seats with a 32" pitch make for quite a good amount of legroom.
Slimline seats with a 32" pitch make for quite a good amount of legroom.

Without seat-back video screens, the safety demonstration and ‘moving map’ were displayed on the small LCD panels mounted near the overhead air vents.

The overhead LCD panels can be used to show a simple safety video.
The overhead LCD panels can be used to show a simple safety video.

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.

LED lighting is one of the A220's contemporary touches.
LED lighting is one of the A220's contemporary touches.

Deep overhead bins with room for standard-sized cabin bags will please the carry-on set.

Carry-on bags are easily stowed in the spacious overhead bins.
Carry-on bags are easily stowed in the spacious overhead bins.

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.

The A220's large oval-shaped windows are Instagram-friendly.
The A220's large oval-shaped windows are Instagram-friendly.

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.”

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Jazzop

Jazzop

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 84

Qantas groups future; A350, B787, A321/320, A223. A380s for the remaining decade then will go as part of a deal to get more 350s in.

kabe100

kabe100

30 Aug 2017

Total posts 35

In that dream, imagine being a Qantas 787 pilot among all those Airbus machine operator colleagues...

MKS11

MKS11

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 38

No. It will be 787s and 777x and 737 max.

AJW

AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 511

Don't think they will order the Max. Last time Qantas went narrow body shopping they had actually choosen the A320 family to replace the 737 classics, but before the deal was announced 9/11 and the collapse of Ansett happened which meant Qantas needed to expand fast. Due to 9/11 there were a heap of (cheap) 738's available quickly thanks to American Airlines. End result Qantas changed track and ended up with the 737-800.

This time around Qantas has an existing order for a shed load of A320Neo family planes, including the XLR's that they have said some will fly in Qantas colours, plus there is the negative press around the Max. So think the cards will turn this time like they all most did in 2001

And that order for A320's also recall at that time it was when Qantas brought Impulse and went on to use them to establish Jetstar which after initially used the Impulse 717's ended up with a fleet of A320 family planes. The story goes Jetstar came as a result of finding a use for those A320's and to also fill the gap left by Ansett.

DK

DK

30 May 2011

Total posts 38

Perhaps we might see history repeat itself? A220 and A350 deal just like A380 and A330 back more than a decade ago?

no_info

no_info

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2019

Total posts 5

With regret, I also see that Qantas will go Boeing - 737, 787 and 777x. The A320 NEO better than a 737-Max (what isn't??) A350-900 is a gem; quiet and fuel efficient and will be easier to fill than a 777x and the 220 is great commuter jet.

Rotate

Rotate

05 Jan 2018

Total posts 25

sadly the bean counters will prevail and we will all be shoehorned into boeing jets.

Ryan K

Ryan K

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 303

What Boeing can replace the 717 though?

Lps988

Lps988

20 Jan 2017

Total posts 33

Talking in purely hypotheticals, if Qantas were to aquire the A220 and the A350 for sunrise (hopefully) then it would create the perfect suite of aircraft for their pilot academy.

Freshly trained pilots start regional on the A220, next stop is the A321, progress to A330 and then can go either A350 or last 7-10 years of the A380.

Seems like perfect fleet continuity.

AJW

AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 511

Not sure there is a benefit in the A220 for crew progression/continuity. Remember the A220 is only an Airbus in name, it is really the Bombardier C series.

Now whilst the cockpit is very Airbus like with side stick control etc it doesn't operate like, nor does it share a common type rating any Airbus A3xx family aircraft. So no gain from that perspective.

GBRGB

GBRGB

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 221

“. The 717s are very reliable” ask anyone who has to fly them regularly and you won't hear that Alan Joyce.

anthony watts

anthony watts

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Mar 2015

Total posts 80

There was a time when Boeing could do nothing except kick goals. That time has passed. The 777 is truly yesterday's 'plane no matter how many letters/symbols/emojis they add to its name. Somehow Airbus have managed to have the right designers at the right time, and picking up the Bombardier now Airbus 220 indicate that following the almost misstep with 380, Airbus are the planes for our time.

The one unknown is if Boeing truly gets into difficulties (more difficulties) how much political /economic pressure the US government throws about to "encourage" friendlies to buy Boeing.

Gswift

Gswift

09 Jun 2017

Total posts 16

- The 777 is truly yesterday's 'plane no matter how many letters/symbols/emojis they add to its name

The 1st 777 flew in 1996. The A320 was flying in the eighties and the A330/A350 in the mid nineties at around the same time as the 777. I agree that the A220 would be great for Qantas as a replacement for 717, F100 and some 737's. Just putting it out there - Sunrise could see both the A350-1000 and the 777-8/9??

Ryan K

Ryan K

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 303

The A350 was flying in the mid nineties? Hardly!

AJW

AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 511

I am certain the poster meant A340.

Trogdor

Trogdor

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 81

Could be that Qantas plans on converting more of its A230neo order to A321/321XLRs and needs something to slot in below them, not just to replace the 717 but also the 737-800 on routes that are not quite filling planes but are too big to swap in a smaller 717 or F100.

Jazzop

Jazzop

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 84

Qantas are at an inflection point when it comes to their fleet. Looking out 10 years, apart from the 787s, the rest will start needing replacement. This is an enormous opportunity for them to drive costs down via a bulk deal, but also improve fleet commonality to bring in all those additional benefits.

For the manufacturers it's a rare opportunity to go for the whole fleet. Boeing has too much on their hands right now and there is so much negativity around the MAX I can't see Qantas going for it no matter what. That's a big problem for VA btw. They're already strong 32x operators so it's logical they go 32x family across the group, leveraging the XLR for some new long and thin routes too.

Then they can replace the 717s and 100s with one type. What would you prefer the E-Jet or 220? The 220 gives great comfort and flexibility. Again, they can use the range to open up a whole bunch of new routes, especially with Sydney West coming online.

So, that leaves sunrise and the 380s. 777x is delayed, just adding to Boeing issues. 350s are in service delivering well. Great pilot commonality with the 330s and even better if they go for the 32x family. Airbus would do a trade in deal for the 380s as well, to get them replaced with 350-1000s.

So you'd have;

350-900 or 1000s

350-900ULR

787s (maybe Airbus will go after these too?)

A330s (maybe replaced with NEOs or even the potential 350 regional)

321/320

220 - 100 and 300

5 types instead of the current 8, and significant alignment with Jetstar.

Tell me Airbus wouldn't through everything at that....?

Trogdor

Trogdor

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 81

Agree with most of your points. However, I would suggest that Qantas won't be giving up on Boeing, the Dreamliners are doing very well for them, and they're still apparently keen on the NMA/797 if and when Boeing gets around to it.

lafleche

lafleche

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Jun 2016

Total posts 31

Well given the “incidents” with the engines and the fact that barely 2 weeks ago Swiss grounded the entire fleet of 220s, I hope QF doesn't rush a decision here.

Tlar

Tlar

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jul 2013

Total posts 20

Hey David,

Did you try out the middle seat? Is it true, it is wider then other four seats in economy row?

If it is 19in wide as i hear. I can see transcon flight to Darwin would be a very pleasent then full 738.

I can see QF buying A223 to put on thin main line routes(DWN-SYD/MELB/ADEL Etc) during the low season that was served by 738.


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