The forthcoming A320 variant equipped with sharklet winglets will be used by Airbus as the benchmark or baseline airframe for the New Engine Option (NEO) derivative that is expected to be launched by year-end.
Fernando Alonso , Airbus’s Senior Vice President Flight and Integration Test, said that the first production sharklet A320, which is due to fly in 2012 and deliver a 3.5% fuel burn improvement, will be used as the reference for the NEO version. Subject to the expected launch this year, the NEO is due to follow two-to-three years after the sharklet version flies. But Alonso adds that there are no plans to re-engine the sharklet test A320 as a NEO development aircraft.
The NEO variant will be aerodynamically similar to the sharklet-equipped A320, but will be powered by advanced turbofans — either the CFM Leap-X or Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan — which should provide a double-digit gain in fuel efficiency. It is due to enter service in late 2015.
Alonso also said that although the sharklets will be tested on the company’s 23 year-old A320 test aircraft MSN1, the bulk of the development work will have to be undertaken by the first production sharklet aircraft. He stated “MSN1 is too old. The production aircraft will also have the revised wing structure that is required for the sharklets.”
Alonso adds that the aging test aircraft, which was the first A320 built and has been used for flight trials in Toulouse since 1987, will be replaced with one of the new prototype airframes. “MSN1 will be retired. We’ll keep the first sharklet A320 for testing or if we go ahead with NEO then we would retain the first one of those,” he said.
Air New Zealand became the launch customer for the sharklet A320 in November last year. Deliveries are due to begin in late 2012.