As a new year rolls in, many people like to say “out with the old, and in with the new” — doing some self-improvement things like purging unused belongings, or hitting the gym. Aircraft manufacturers do the same thing, as new technologies come along to make their tried-and-true designs even more efficient and appealing to airlines. So let’s take a look at this year’s newcomers to the world’s airline fleets.
The Airbus A321 has become a darling for airlines around the world, thanks to its market position as the only medium-range single-aisle airliner that can hold up to 240 people. This year, Airbus will deliver its first A321neo, The “neo” stands for New Engine Option. Airbus says its new engines will deliver up to a twenty percent reduced fuel burn over current generation A320-family jets. Its smaller counterpart, the A320neo experienced a turbulent start in 2016, due to some quirks with its new Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines, but those issues have since been worked out, and the plane is now flying with several airlines.
Airbus will also deliver a stretched version of its popular A350-XWB later this year. The A350-900 has been flying since early 2015, but the longer A350-1000 is expected to be delivered to launch customer Qatar Airways later this year. Qatar’s A350-1000s will also be fit with a brand new “Super Business Class” that their CEO Akbar Al Baker has been teasing for over two years. Nobody knows many details about it, but Al Baker has called it “game-changing.” Passengers love the A350, even in economy, because the cabin is wider than Boeing’s competing aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. The extra width allows airlines to install seats that are 18 inches wide, versus 17 inches on the Dreamliner. It will seat up to 366 passengers.
Boeing will deliver its first 737 MAX in the first half of this year. The MAX is the fourth generation of the 737 line, which has been introduction since the 1960s. At the end of 2016, Boeing had delivered 9,335 737s, and it is the world’s most-flown airliner. The MAX will feature new engines and spiffy split winglets that Boeing says will save airliners 14% in fuel consumption over the current 737 generation.
Since being first announced on December 11, 2011, airlines have ordered 3,605. The first one, a MAX-8, is scheduled to be delivered to Southwest Airlines in the first half of this year. Southwest has ordered two hundred of the MAX. Airline passengers probably won’t notice a big visual difference in the 737 MAX — but the new CFM LEAP engines do run more quietly, which should lend itself to a more pleasant flight.
Plane of the Year?
I have to award the A350-1000 with having the best passenger experience of the new commercial planes entering service this year. It will allow airlines to carry more passengers farther, more fuel-efficiently, and more comfortably than any aircraft produced to date. Its seat width makes a huge difference on long flights.
In the Future
In 2018 and 2019, we will look forward to the introduction of a few other new planes. The A330neo from Airbus will feature a brand new widebody cabin design with new engines on an aircraft body that has been in production for two decades. We’ll even see more foreign competitors entering the market, including new single-aisle planes built in China and Russia, and an updated regional jet from Embraer of Brazil.
Many industry experts also expect Boeing to unveil a new aircraft to compete with the popular Airbus A321. Boeing’s former 757 was about the same size, and airlines like American, Delta and United have been holding on to their 757s as long as possible. Boeing has rumored to be working behind the scenes on a similarly-sized aircraft for the past few years, and this may be the year that we finally see a new design.