Airbus’ A320neo fleet started flight tests outside France last month, with the LEAP-engined aircraft going to Bolivia and the GTF-engined aircraft going to the UAE. Airbus is pushing its tests hard because it has publicly said it will deliver its first aircraft by year end.
There are big kudos for accomplishing this. Making such a delivery is a poke at Bombardier and Boeing. That alone makes the pressure worthwhile. But along with the aggressive schedule comes risk.
Earlier this week the GTF-engined aircraft had an engine problem. Airbus said the damage was minor and came at the end of the hot weather test program. A replacement engine has been sent.
The first delivery goes to Qatar Airways and will be powered by the GTF engine. No doubt the airline is watching the tests very closely. It is not a forgiving customer, and its exceptional standards have irked Airbus before.
That said, the best place to find flaws is during these tests. Aircraft are flown aggressively to shake out every possible weakness. Every flight test program has allotted time for discovery and fixes. The discovery of problems near delivery time are more of a concern since the shake out should be done by then. Airbus looks safe to be the first delivery of the next generation single-aisle producer.