As the sun begins to set on the year 2018, I have now passed the ‘220-hours onboard flying hours of one of the world’s newest short-haul jets, the Airbus A220, in 2018’ mark.
It’s the aircraft that quickly became my favourite short-range jet to fly, a jet that combines genuine passenger comfort with aerodynamic efficiency, slick design, and new levels of ‘hushed’ engine tones.
I’ve flown the jet on its shortest routes (intra-Switzerland ) and on some of its longest (Malaga, Spain to Riga, Latvia, almost five hours flight time with headwinds). On this flight, pilots stumbled during their onboard announcement when it came to welcoming passengers onboard the ‘C Seri…—Airbus A220’.
The name change came after Airbus took a majority stake in the C Series program earlier this year, meaning European planemaker could establish a second aircraft final assembly line in Alabama, where it currently builds larger A320 family jets for U.S. airlines. The acquisition means C Series (now A220) aircraft destined for U.S. customer airlines are now “made in the USA” — which protects the aircraft program from any sudden tariffs from the Trump administration.
In addition to my 220 hours+ on the jet this year, I’ve had one of the most unique experiences a person on this earth can have, while on the A220. I was the only person (aside from the flight crew) onboard an Airbus A220 during an air performance, whereby my A220 jet performed ‘aerobatic’ manoeuvres through the snow-filled valleys of St. Moritz, during the yearly Ski Championships final.
In case it wasn’t thrilling enough — the ‘Patrouille Suisse’ (Swiss Military) joined us on each side of the aircraft, as ‘aerobatic escorts.’
If you’re yet to take flight on this quiet bird…here are some observations from this year’s flights onboard the A220.
“It’s essentially a ‘Baby’ version of the A350 XWB”
Which is ironic, as the jet started its life with no association to Airbus, and now finds itself a firm member of the Airbus family.
From my hundreds of flights onboard the aircraft, I’m continuously impressed by the true feeling of space, thanks to the cabin structure, and design of cabin features including the curvature of the overhead lockers.
Bombardier set out with a vision when creating this jet: a narrow-body jet, that feels like a wide-body jet — and it’s exactly what they achieved.
The A220 serves the 100-135 seat market, and while it’s found on short-range routes across the world, I’d feel happy crossing the Atlantic in such an aircraft, given its genuine cabin comfort.
“The ‘Different’ Physical Feeling of ‘Flight’ Is Noticeable”
Climbing to cruising altitude in the A220 isn’t comparable to any other single-aisle aircraft. It’s incredibly smooth, and as a result, feels faster. When the aircraft banks left or right, the aerodynamic motion of the turn is again, much like a larger jet. It’s also…silent. There isn’t a vibration to be felt, nor an obvious acceleration noise. Instead, the aircraft is much like a glider, gently climbing with very little sound.
The A220 is an incredibly capable jet. It has a takeoff field length as short as 1,460 metres. As a result, it’s the largest aircraft able to operate in the constrained environment of London City Airport, in the United Kingdom.
I’m not just fond of the aircraft from a flight performance perspective, but as a passenger, I have a sense of appreciation of the cabin decisions in the creation of this aircraft, which have been truly top-notch.
Large windows, similar to those on the 787 Dreamliner, have enabled me to see the world in a greater capacity…even on the Ski Championship performance flights.
The size of these windows is a key contributor to the ‘airy’ feeling I’ve been aware of on all 220+ hours of my A220 flights in 2018.
SWISS, the national airline of Switzerland, designed an entire cabin around the rarity that is this: the cabin doesn’t require any illumination during daylight hours.
In 2016, at the delivery of the first SWISS ‘Bombardier C Series” (as it was known), the aircraft impressed European spectators with its ‘futuristic’ look. A lady from the Swiss Chamber of Commerce told me “I’ve never seen such an ‘attractive plane!'”
It’s possible that, while I was standing at the door of this new aircraft at a typically-Swiss Delivery in Zurich, I may have underestimated the simple fact that this short-haul jet is truly in a league of its own. While commercially, it’s yet to be a success — aircraft orders for the A220 are making steady progress. Delta Air Lines, Air Tanzania, and Korean Air are all customers — but an upcoming 2019 Airbus-led sales boost campaign is set to target new airline customers in Asia, the Middle East, and South America.
Having joined Air Baltic for the delivery of their first C Series, I think back to how the airline executives beamed at the excitement of being able to enjoy an immediate 21% lower fuel burn for the CS300, compared with the airlines’ 32-year-old Boeing 737-300s.
Fuel remains among the highest of costs to an airline — and even the smallest percentage in savings is desperately sought after by airlines worldwide.
Earlier this year, following a 4+ hour flight onboard the A220 to the home of Air Baltic, I sat down with Air Baltic CEO Martin Gauss and his colleagues, of whom couldn’t have been clearer: they’re betting on this jet.
The airline is determining route networks, frequencies, and profitability forecasts based on the performance of its A220-300s — which continue to join the fleet every three weeks.
In my 220+ hours of A220 flight this year, have I found aspects of the aircraft I’m not so keen on? Of course. A minor, but a somewhat important example: the volume of the cabin chime, more commonly known as the ‘ding’ that can be heard in the cabin. Unlike the long haul A350, and A380 (which have a more gentle, discreet chime) it’s very loud and quickly becomes an annoyance. Every push of the cabin attendant button (one ‘ding’), every phone-call between galleys-cockpit (two ‘dings’), every seatbelt sign status change (one ‘ding’ per on/off), is at an unusually high volume, and enough to wake a sleeping passenger — I know this first hand. On another flight between Riga and Malaga, I counted 17 chimes in one hour. The flight was over four hours. You get the idea.
However, on the whole, I’ve disembarked the aircraft appreciating the A220’s place in modern day, short-range aviation.
There are air vents, large bathrooms, and even overhead screens — the same cannot be said for the likes of the Airbus A320neo, or Boeing 737MAX.
While I’ve found this aircraft to be continuously reliable, the aircraft will perform better this winter. That’s because the A220 has been certified to a higher autoland capability by the European safety regulator.
Both the A220-100 and -300 have been approved for low-weather minima autoland operations down to Category IIIa and IIIb. These type of approaches allow decision heights to be as little as zero, with specific minimum requirements for runway visibility, in the event of fog.
In the Summer of 2016, I joined the Bombardier teams for a test flight, on a ‘flight test vehicle’ C Series aircraft ‘FTV5’ — a test plane, belonging to the manufacturer. Executives explained how the aircraft was based on a clean-sheet design while incorporating advanced materials combining corrosion and fatigue-free composites, titanium and latest aluminium-lithium alloys for a lighter (and therefore more cost-efficient) aircraft — but for passengers, I wondered — would this jet make a real difference to the way we fly short-haul routes?
I often explain to passengers that the aircraft is a blank canvas, and it’s the airline who paint it. But with the largest overhead stowage in its class, the highest ceiling, the largest cabin, the widest seats, the widest aisle, the largest lavatories and the largest windows — this aircraft is the most beautiful ‘blank canvas’ in the modern age, short-haul aviation — prior to any airline involvement.