Virgin America has placed a firm order for 60 new Airbus A320s to be delivered starting in 2013, including 30 A320neo aircraft.
The deal is the first firm order for Airbus’ re-engined A320neo – making Virgin America the launch customer of record for the A320neo – and Airbus says the Virgin America deal takes the total number of firm commercial-aircraft orders that the manufacturer has received throughout its history to the 10,000-aircraft mark.
Last week Indian low-cost airline IndiGo signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for 180 A320-family aircraft in which Airbus claimed was the biggest-ever single order for a commercial-aircraft type in terms of aircraft numbers. IndiGo’s MOU included a commitment for 150 A320neos, but since it was not a firm order, Virgin America has become the true A320neo launch customer.
Virgin America’s order also came on the same day that Airbus revealed it had achieved a new company record of commercial-aircraft deliveries in 2010 and the manufacturer claimed net orders of 574 new commercial jets during the year.
The Virgin America order formalizes and expands an initial commitment for 40 aircraft made at the Farnborough International Airshow in July 2010 and Virgin America’s choice of the A320neo is a new development in that deal.
With its January 17 order and fleet growth from other sources, Virgin America says its fleet will more than triple in size from its current 34 aircraft to 111 aircraft by 2019.
The 30 current-technology A320s in Virgin America’s new order are slated for delivery from 2013 to 2016. Airbus launched the A320neo option in late 2010 and the U.S. carrier’s 30 A320neos are slated for first delivery in early 2016.
According to Airbus, the A320neo will offer 15 per cent gains in fuel efficiency, along with accompanying improvements in carbon efficiency – including double-digit reductions in emissions of oxides of nitrogen. The A320neo offers reduced engine noise, lower operating costs and up to 500 nautical miles more range.
Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson and Virgin America President and CEO David Cush joined Airbus CEO Tom Enders and Airbus COO Customers John Leahy, to make the announcement alongside one of the new aircraft during the Airbus annual press conference at Toulouse in France.
“At just three years old and at a time when many carriers are contracting, we’re pleased to be growing and bringing our award-winning service to new markets,” says Cush. “We credit a great deal of our success to date to having the right aircraft. The low operating costs, cabin comfort and carbon-efficient design of our all new Airbus A320-family fleet has helped fuel our growth and success in the North American market – and we’re confident the A320neo will only build on that.”
Virgin America has operated a fleet of new Airbus A320-family jets since its launch in 2007. Seating configuration on the new aircraft will remain the same as the carrier’s current 146-to-149 seat A320s, which offer an international-grade First Class cabin and Main Cabin and Main Cabin Select services. As with all of Virgin America’s fleet, the new aircraft will undergo modifications to offer the airline’s own mood-lit interiors, touch-screen entertainment and upscale design features.
The upgraded neo aircraft will feature 95 per cent airframe commonality with the original A320 family, offering a seamless fit into the existing Virgin America fleet. Virgin America has not yet announced its engine choice for the A320neo order. The choice lies between the Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1100G geared turbofan and the CFM International LEAP-X.
“We hit our 5000th order in August of 2004 – after more than 30 years. To achieve the 10,000th order just over six years later is a ringing endorsement of our product line,” says Enders. “And it gives a strong boost to our new, eco-efficient A320neo when Virgin America, one of our newest and trendiest customers, places the first firm order, for which we are extremely grateful.”
Airbus estimates that the A320neo’s fuel efficiency will yield an average annual savings of $1.1 million per aircraft. The neo will employ wing-tip devices called “Sharklets”, which enhance the eco-efficiency and payload-range performance of the A320 by reducing aerodynamic drag on the aircraft and thus lowering fuel burn. The A320neo will emit 3,600 fewer tons of CO2 per aircraft on an annual basis.