This is A320 MSN 0001, and is used by Airbus as the test plane for everything and anything that goes on the latest versions of the A320. Therefore it has seen everything and done everything. For the abuse it has endured it looks pretty good. It may not have the flight hours of an airliner, but it certainly has suffered more.
The airplane is seen here in the factory being cleaned up for sharklet testing. This factory is where the A300 and A310 used to be assembled. In order to add the winglets, the wing is de-stressed. Engines come off, flaps and slats are removed. Then the winglets get added and all the parts go back on.
The tests require both engine types to be used. When NEO comes along that means more tests. Airbus is working towards one wing design for all A320s regardless of whether a customer buys sharklets or not. Then, if the customer wants to add these, it requires a short one day visit – possibly overnight might be possible.
Explaining the work involved in this process, Airbus A32o Chief Engineer Wolfgang Engler, described a new baseline is to be set (with the reinforced wing) against which to compare the final product with wing fences and with sharklets. Which explains why aircraft programs take so much time to work through. There are many nuances and then after that, you have to explain it all to the regulators.
Herr Engler strikes us as a very deliberate man. Heading the engineering on Airbus’ most prolific seller requires steady hands and Herr Engler chose his words carefully and was quick to update his visitors with specific data points.