After Nearly Two Years: a Look Back At The A320NEO Program

Virgin America's second A321NEO taxiing atNew York-Kennedy (JFK). (Picture by Layoverhub writer David Xian)

It’s been almost two years since Airbus’s new version of its popular A320 series aircraft took its first flight. Since then, the A320NEO program has had its ups and downs. While orders for the A320NEO, and aircraft in general, have slowed down, deliveries have been taking place and an increasing rate.

By now, all three versions of the A320NEO series have taken their first flight, with two of the three already having been delivered to airlines.

The A319 NEO took its first flight on March 31st and will likely enter commercial service towards the end of 2018. Despite the smallest member of the A320NEO only having 50 orders, Airbus has said nothing that points towards the cancellation of the A319NEO. Denver based Frontier has 20 of the A319NEO orders despite the airline’s recent retirement of most of its current A319 fleet.  

The most popular variant of the A320NEO family is the namesake: the A320NEO. Since its first flight in September of 2014, nearly 130 of them have entered service. Both the Pratt & Whitney and CFM engine variants have been delivered, but the Pratt & Whitney variant has had major issues.

A Spirit Airlines A320NEO arriving into Chicago-O’Hare. (Photo by Layoverhub writer Alec Mollenhauer)

While the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G has not been unsafe, it has been slammed by reliability problems including combustion chamber issues and an issue with one of the bearings. This has led to six airlines grounding either parts of their or their entire fleet of A320NEOs. By the end of the year, Pratt & Whitney has said that it will have improved parts in the manufacturing of their PW1100G.. All of the engines that are currently in service are receiving a retrofit, so the future looks better for the Pratt & Whitney powered A320NEOs.

Although the issues appear to be well on the way to being resolved, Qatar Airways cancelled its order for 80 A320NEOs. Instead, they will take A321NEOs. Originally, Qatar was to be the launch operator of the A320NEO, but they rejected multiple aircraft early on. The aircraft originally destined for Qatar will likely be repurposed and end up at other airlines at a reduced cost one the engine issues are resolved. Spirit also converted two A320NEO orders to A320CEO (current engine option) and will not take any more NEOs till 2019.

Lufthansa became the launch customer of the A320NEO, taking delivery of D-AINA on January 20th of 2016.

As of now, Indigo airlines of India is the largest A320NEO operator with 22 already in the fleet with Scandinavian and Pegasus following behind with 10 NEOs each.

There are just under 3,600 remaining orders for the A320NEO, with thousands more to come in the future.

The largest variant of the A320NEO family, the A321NEO has also made its entry into service. After taking its first flight February of 2016, the A321NEO was certified and delivered to launch customer Virgin America on April 19th, 2017. It made its first flight from San Francisco (SFO) to Washington-Reagan on May 31st, 2017.

Since then, four additional A321NEOs have been delivered including one more to Virgin America, two to Novair of Sweden, and one to Sri Lankan airlines. China Southern and Air Astana have A321s in full colors in Hamburg awaiting delivery.

In early 2015, Airbus announced plans for another variant of the A321NEO, the LR (long range). A321LR will have a maximum takeoff weight of 214,000 pounds, an increase of 8,000 pounds from the current A321. It will also feature three auxillary fuel tanks, allowing it to have a range roughly 100 nautical miles farther than the Boeing 757-200. This should make it the best replacement for the Boeing 757 on longer missions such as those crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

There are over 1,400 A321NEO orders still to be fulfilled