By David Pearson
FARNBOROUGH, England–Airbus said Sunday it has started cutting metal–the first stage of a production process–for a more fuel-efficient version of its best-selling A320 single-aisle airliner.
The A320neo, planned to enter into service from late 2015, will be equipped with a new type of engine and wingtip devices that together are expected to deliver up to 15% fuel economy.
Airbus has already booked more than 1,400 firm orders for the A320neo since parent company European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. decided to begin the program in 2010.
An Airbus statement quoted Tom Williams, executive vice president of programs, as saying: “This first metal cut of the engine pylon component for the A320neo heralds the completion of the design phase and start of production for the world’s fastest selling airliner.”
Engine pylons are the structures that attach engines to wings.
The decision by Airbus to launch the A320new program prompted U.S. rival Boeing Co.BA -1.01% to offer a similar product upgrade to its narrow-bodied Boeing 737, adding a new generation of engines that will require some design modifications to the aircraft. Boeing plans for the 737MAX to enter into service in the last quarter 2017.
Since the 737MAX program was launched 10 months ago, Boeing has accumulated more than 1,000 orders and commitments from 16 customer airlines. Airbus has taken in more than 1,400 firm orders since the A320neo launch in 2010.
Airbus makes the current version of the A320 on three assembly lines in France, Germany and China. Last week, it announced a $600 million investment to create a fourth assembly line at Mobile, Ala., as it seeks to increase production to eat into its delivery backlog of over 1,400 aircraft. Deliveries from that facility will start in 2016, with production gradually gearing up to reach between 40-50 aircraft a year. Airbus currently builds A320s at a rate of 40 a month, rising to 42 a month in October.
The A320neo and the 737MAX will be the workhorses of low-cost airlines in the coming decade, and both Airbus and Boeing are expected to announce new orders for the planes next week at the Farnborough Air Show.