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A New Plane Is Born – The First SWISS A320Neo: Part I

A New Plane Is Born – The First SWISS A320Neo: Part I

Let’s have a look at the very first SWISS A320neo. In this mini-series, I’ll take you to the Airbus factory, as well on the delivery flight of the beautiful aircraft. 

It has been almost exactly 116 years since mankind “learned to fly” and the Wilbur and Orville Wright brothers took to the skies of Kitty Hawk for the first time in 1903 in their “Wright Flyer”. Since then, flying has become a matter of course over the years. People got used to reach any point across the globe under a day.

It is easy to overlook the enormous effort involved in aviation in general and the manufacture of new aircraft in particular. I was now able to experience firsthand in an impressive manner. 

SWISS is currently performing the largest fleet modernization in its history. Since 2016, 12 Boeing 777-300s and 29 Airbus A220s have been added to the fleet. Next up is the Airbus A320neo. In the spring of 2020, it took off for the first time bearing the Swiss flag on its tail. The first “Neo” was assembled in Hamburg Finkenwerder, one of the two main factories of the major global commercial aeroplane manufacturer. To my delight, SWISS invited me for a nice tour of the facilities for this occasion. Buckle up, and enjoy!

SWISS A320neo – Off to Finkenwerder!

What’s better than enjoying a beautiful sunrise from the plane?

Early in the morning, we hopped aboard an Airbus A319 (one of the last two remaining in the SWISS fleet) to have a quick jump towards the North to Hamburg, Germany. A little more than an hour later we reached the Hanseatic metropolis. We touched down, and a little later, a bus took us to the plant.

The day started with a delicious buffet and a lecture with a small introduction to the A320neo family. With the classic Airbus A320 family, the European aircraft manufacturer has already laid down a very nice board.

Airbus A320neo production line

In the mid-1980s, Airbus initial business case stated, that 600 A320 aircraft would be sold in the plane program’s lifetime. Well, as of today, 15,193 orders from over 300 customers have piled up. Statistically, an A320 takes off somewhere on earth every two seconds. The Airbus A320neo promises to continue this success story with many improvements.

SWISS A320neo – New Engine Option

Neo stands for “New Engine Option” and describes the probably most striking feature of the new type very well. The new engines, which are conspicuously large (2.05m wider than the fuselages of most business jets), are both lower in consumption and significantly quieter, in comparison to the classic CFM-56 engines. 

Compared to the “normal” A320, the A320neo consumes around 20% less kerosene per seat. This fits well into SWISS’s general fleet strategy. Since 2003, SWISS has been able to reduce average consumption per seat by 29% by investing in a more modern fleet. So, the “Neo” is less thirsty and quieter. And otherwise? 

Of course, Airbus not only thought about the environment and the residents of Zurich Airport but also of the passengers flying on their planes. The manufacturer has managed to make the already wide cabin (7 inches wider than that of the Boeing 737) a little wider with a new fairing.

But enough technical data. Our route took us to hall 3 of the Airbus plant, more precisely to line 3 station 41. Here, the aircraft with serial number 9246 was waiting for us. At the time, only the cockpit and the fuselage section were put together to form the so-called “barrel”. In the next steps, the wings, engines, landing gear and sharklets are gradually assembled and the first SWISS Airbus A320neo takes shape.

The various individual parts are manufactured all over Europe and eventually flown to Finkenwerder for final assembly in a specially modified Airbus A330, the “Beluga”, which was converted by Airbus for this purpose.

SWISS A320neo: 300,000 Parts Make a Plane

The cockpit and the front fuselage section come from France, for example, the cabin from Germany, and the wings from Great Britain. Incidentally, assembling the more than 300,000 individual parts is largely manual work and is done by the more than 13,000 employees on-site in shifts. The aircraft moves from one station to the next almost like a conveyor belt system.

This ended a very impressive day for me. I hope you enjoyed my impressions from the Airbus plant in Finkenwerder. In any case, I could not wait to see the A320neo in the SWISS colour scheme for the first time. I will write about my experiences of the delivery flight in a subsequent article.

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