Qantas has released images of its first Airbus A220 on the assembly line before its expected arrival by the end of this year.
Major airframe components including centre and rear fuselage are now under construction at the Airbus factory in Mirabel, Canada. Qantas has ordered 29 A220 aircraft to replace QantasLink’s ageing Boeing 717 fleet.
QantasLink’s first A220 will initially fly between Melbourne and Canberra, with the jet to be progressively phased in on other regional and domestic routes. The A220s will include 137 seats, with 10 in Business and 127 in Economy, and will primarily connect smaller capital cities such as Canberra and Hobart to major hubs in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
According to CEO John Gissing, the aircraft has nearly double the range of the Boeing 717 and will open up new domestic and international short-haul routes.
“The A220 represents the next generation in our domestic fleet in terms of passenger comfort, aircraft range and opportunities for our people, so seeing the first aircraft starting to take shape is incredibly exciting,” he said.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference in May, Gissing described the retirement of the 717 as “bittersweet”, and said the last one will leave by next July.
“It’s an amazing aeroplane. It’s been the backbone of the regional operation for some time,” he said. “But today is about renewal, and the A220 is also an amazing aeroplane. Like the 717, it is a game changer for the regional jet operation,” he said.
“It’s new technology, super-quiet cabin, high-bypass geared turbofan engine, an amazing cabin amenity that customers are going to love. It will be able to connect markets that we can’t at the moment with that size of aircraft.”
Qantas is currently undergoing a major fleet renewal program, Project Winton, that means it will either buy or have purchase rights to up to 299 narrow-body and 12 wide-body aircraft for delivery over the next decade.
This includes nine more A321s that it will then convert into freighters; 12 Airbus A350-1000 jets to launch Project Sunrise; and 20 Airbus A321XLRs and 29 A220-300s to fly its domestic routes, which includes an option to purchase up to 85 additional Airbuses through to 2034.
Jetstar, meanwhile, is currently beginning the delivery of 38 A321neos, comprising 18 A321 LR and 20 A321XLR aircraft.
CEO Alan Joyce last year said the A220 and A320s would become the “backbone” of Qantas’s domestic fleet for the next 20 years.
“Their range and economics will make new direct routes possible, including serving regional cities better,” he said.
Joyce added these new aircraft and engines would reduce emissions by at least 15 per cent if running on traditional fossil fuels and even more so if using sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs).