Airbus’ new extra-long range member of its popular A320 family, the A321XLR, will continue its flight testing programme with an international flight campaign covering 100 hours of flying time across 10 days.
The aircraft’s Functional and Reliability (FnR) Testing is part of the manufacturer’s work to achieve EASA Type Certification for the new A321 variant, expected in 2024, and an effort to demonstrate the aircraft’s systems maturity.
In addition to flying routes that replicate what the aircraft may be doing when in service, the 15 flights will also include real airline cabin and flight crews, alongside the company’s test pilots and flight engineers, and a group of about 30 passengers to provide feedback on the aircraft’s operations.
Jim Fawcett, lead flight test engineer for the FnR, explained the need for this kind of testing, he said: “In the olden days ‘route proving’ was very much about showing customers the aircraft in action – that the aircraft they have bought can actually do what they want to do with it.
“These days we carry on with this kind of demonstration, but we’re also looking at showing the technical reliability and maturity and good functioning of the aircraft. So that’s why we prefer to call it ‘functional and reliability testing’.”
The plane will fly to a number of different environments to test its ability to operate in different temperatures, airport infrastructure, weather conditions and runway altitudes.
Initially the aircraft will fly a number of routes around Europe stemming from the airport in Toulouse, for example one of the flight will take off from Toulouse and approach the North Pole before circling back to France again.
The second part of the test campaign will cover transatlantic operations to and from a US gateway airport, additionally there will be multiple airline and Airbus flight-crew changes in between sectors while ground crews will also treat the flights as if they were operating as part of a real service.
Talking about the ground maintenance teams, Fawcett said: “They will be working with our airline customers in terms of providing us with a fuel truck or a catering service or a water and waste servicing truck – all those kinds of things in just the same way as the airlines do on any of their rotations on any day of the week.”
Airbus’ latest test campaign for the A321XLR follows on from a successful first half of 2023 where the aircraft manufacturer recorded an 11% total revenue increase on H1 2022 and delivered over 300 aircraft, the vast majority of which coming from the same family as new aircraft with 256 A320s being delivered.