New airplanes, among the sexiest beasts in the sky, generally make their debut with the type of glitzy ceremony befitting a Hollywood blockbuster.
Not this time. Airbus delivered its new version of the world’s bestselling airplane Wednesday to Lufthansa, quietly dropping off the fuel-efficient jet in Hamburg. There was a press release, several photos of executives in suits, and a notice on Twitter. But no horde of Airbus employees, music, or overstuffed buffet were to be seen—almost de rigueur for such events as these and certainly in evidence when Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing staged elaborate deliveries for the first of the new Airbus A350 and A380 superjumbo and the 787 Dreamliner.
It seems January is a bad month for a big blowout. The short period after the holidays prevented a larger event, Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath says, but Lufthansa and Airbus will have a big A320neo party in the next few weeks when the carrier gets its second plane. “So no worries, there will be festivity,” Schaffrath wrote in an e-mail.
Equally odd to many aviation enthusiasts on social media, Lufthansa and Airbus chose to sit on the “neo” aspect of the new airplane, painting Airbus A320-200 near the cabin door, just as it appears on current models of the A320. Why the lack of distinction? No one is saying.
“Handing over the first A320neo to a world’s leading airline and long-standing Airbus customer, Lufthansa, is a truly great day for everyone at Airbus,” Airbus’s president and chief executive officer, Fabrice Brégier, said in a news release.
Airbus had planned to deliver the first A320neo last month to Qatar Airways, which balked after last-minute glitches were detected in software used by its Pratt & Whitney engines, Bloomberg News reported. Certification of that engine delayed the handoff, so another large buyer of the A320neo, Lufthansa, which ordered 116, stepped in. A rival engine, the LEAP-1A, from General Electric and Safran, began flight tests in May and is expected to be available this year.
Airbus says the A320neo—which began development in 2010 and stands for "new engine option"—offers airlines 15 percent greater fuel efficiency now and 20 percent by 2020 through planned upgrades. Despite its shiny new status, some 95 percent of the plane matches current A320s, a manufacturing strategy that helps integrate new versions into airline fleets.
Boeing’s updated version of its top-selling aircraft, the 737MAX, is scheduled for delivery to Southwest Airlines in mid-2017. Likewise, the MAX will share a similar commonality with Boeing’s current 737s.
As of Dec. 31, Airbus has booked orders for 4,471 “neo” planes from nearly 80 customers for the three variants of the A320 family, with more than 3,300 for the midsize A320 model. Boeing has orders for more than 3,000 of its 737 MAX family.