According to award-winning French Chef Joel Robuchon “The secret of a good ratatouille
(the world-famous, traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish) is to cook the
vegetables separately so each will taste truly of itself.”
Making the ingredients “speak for themselves” is a method which Airbus has come up with to improve
the efficiency of the business as a whole and of the development of its aircraft in particular.
A new lease of life for Airbus’ best-selling A320 and A330 aircraft with the name NEO (New Engine Option)
is the talk of the town in the commercial aircraft business. The NEO programme however is about much more
than just slotting a state of the art turbofan underneath the wing of the European manufacturer’s
When the Airbus A330 entered service in 1994, few commentators at the time would have imagined that
this remarkable and popular aircraft (1,342 sales up to August 2014) would be granted a new lease of
life over twenty years later. The “secret” ingredient is a concept which goes via the name of “NEO”.
To understand the nature of the NEO programme, it makes sense to begin with the A330’s smaller stablemate,
the A320. The NEO programme is the latest step in an enhancement project for this highly successful single
aisle airliner. Above and beyond the introduction of two new jet engine choices – CFM International’s
LEAP-1A and the PurePower PW1100G-JM from Pratt & Whitney, the A320neo family includes aerodynamic
refinements, large curved wing tip devices (so-called “Sharklets”) and an improved cabin.
The benefits over the original A320 include a 15% lower fuel burn on the first aircraft being introduced
into service in 2015 (this will increase to 20% by 2020), 8% lower operating costs, a 10% reduction
in nitrous oxide costs and an increase in range of 500 miles. The new cabin allows for 20 more
At the end of September the A320neo, completed its maiden flight lasting just under two and
a half hours from Airbus' main site in Toulouse, France. The aircraft – carrying the registration
F-WNEO – was flown by Airbus Experimental Test Pilots, Philippe Pellerin and Etienne Miche de Malleray,
who kicked off a comprehensive 3,000 hour test flight programme encompassing all the variants in the
NEO development fleet. “The aircraft really feels like an A320, which is great news,” said Airbus
Flight Test Pilot Miche De Malleray, “I’m looking forward to flying it again as soon as possible.”
“We felt at home,” added A320neo first flight Captain Pellerin, “This brand new baby is very
promising!” The crew performed initial system checks and began the process of opening up the
flight envelope, starting at an altitude of 6,000 ft. and climbing to 26,500 ft. The first production
A320neo will be delivered to Qatar Airways in Q4 2015.
President and Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Fabrice Brégier said, "The aircraft, through
its incremental innovations, combines the most efficient engine and aerodynamic technologies,
as well as new cabin features to bring to market a product which will consume 20% less fuel
Instead of building an all-new jet to replace the hugely successful A320, Airbus chose to improve
its existing aircraft, believing that the lower purchase cost and faster time-to-market would
win the backing of airlines. The decision has proved to be the right one – before the September
maiden flight, Airbus had already sold more than 3,200 A320neos, comfortably outdistancing rival
Boeing’s 737 Max, a similar upgrade to Boeing’s successful single aisle airliner. The A320neo’s
success has led to a rethink within Airbus about how to continually improve its products. At
Airbus this is called “incremental innovation”. Incremental development is the result of much
internal consultation on the development of future projects. Rather than looking for ways in
which to save money on development costs, incremental development was the natural way forward
for a company which had already developed a complete portfolio of aircraft competing in virtually
every segment of the commercial aircraft market. The next step was logically to improve those
aircraft in the portfolio rather than creating brand new products. Airbus President and Chief
Executive Officer, Fabrice Brégier, said the NEO programme is a prime example of the company’s
incremental innovation strategy, citing the new engine option family’s more than 3,200 total
orders received from 60 customers. “We have 60% market share so far, and we believe we will
continue to lead the way with this fantastic A320neo Family,” he added during planeside
comments after the no.1 aircraft’s successful landing. “It’s just the beginning for this
programme!” The next NEO candidate is already waiting in the wings – the A330neo,
due in 2017.
At this year’s Farnborough International Air Show in July, Brégier went on record expressing
his confidence that the A330-800neo and A330-900 will be just as successful as their predecessors –
in conversation with the German business daily newspaper Handelsblatt, Brégier was quoted saying
“Our larger customers believe that we could sell over 1,000 A330neos”
The NEO concept
An efficient kitchen producing high quality cuisine is capable of juggling resources in an
instant – it is awe-inspiring for example to observe a Michelin-starred restaurant kitchen
“in the rush hour”. The same is true of an aircraft manufacturer like Airbus managing its
resources to build world-beating airliners. Ranging from the original A300 to the world’s
largest airliner, the A380, the menu at Airbus has something for every discerning airline.
Winning an airline’s business is one thing, but maintaining the business over many years
requires harnessing the resources available to Airbus in unusual ways. This is best described
using the term Knowledge Management.
NEO and People
High Flyer talked to Daniel Baubil, Head of the A320 Family Programme
HF: How has Airbus started to structure “Knowledge Management”?
Knowledge Management is based on the recognition that an organisation's most
valuable resource is the knowledge of its people. This is not new. In recent
years, Airbus has focussed on establishing an environment in which people are
encouraged to create, share and use knowledge together for the benefit of the
organisation, and each other, through systematic methods and tools to ensure
that knowledge is shared throughout the business. A dedicated Knowledge
Management team is available to support teams in all areas of Knowledge
Management – developing new knowledge, capturing knowledge, retaining
knowledge, and knowledge sharing including lessons learnt and a number
of tools have been developed for example to transfer expertise when a
person changes jobs or leaves the company, or RISE which is a method
to capture and search through lessons learnt.
HF: Why is successful Knowledge Management crucial to the success of the NEO programmes?
Knowledge Management is crucial to the success of all projects
large and small as it ensures that Airbus has the right knowledge,
in the right place, at the right time, avoids information overload and
unnecessary documents, and ensures employees learn from others' experience
and wisdom and can use this in the business. For example – Knowledge Management
methods and tools were used on the A320neo wing to ensure that all lessons learnt
from previous programmes were reviewed to see if they were applicable to the programme,
and then the learning was integrated into the NEO programme. In the same way,
lessons learnt from A320neo will be integrated into the A330neo development.
HF: Is NEO good for people development? Why?
Any new project or programme is good for people as it allows them the opportunity
to develop new skills, work with different colleagues and experience new
topics. Working at Airbus offers people the opportunity to work on
fast paced innovative projects in an international and multi-disciplinary
environment and the A330neo is a great example of such a project.
“Twin Aisle Marketing Director” at Airbus, Jean Ladoues, explains how the NEO concept
has been developed since the A320. “NEO is simply a great opportunity to establish a
cross-feeding of knowledge between the Airbus aircraft programmes. We saw NEO almost
as a recipe in a cook book, taking tried and trusted ingredients from various
programmes within the group and applying them to other products, in this case the
A330, an aircraft which has a wide customer base.”
Many observers in the industry have commented that the single and twin
aisle segments in which the A320 and A330 have been so successful are
central to the future success of Airbus Group. Both the A320neo and its
larger stablemate the A330neo tick all the right boxes for passengers and
carriers alike with considerably less financial outlay than for a brand new
aircraft. Like well-prepared Ratatouille, Airbus’ new kids on the block are a
triumph of logistics and clever resource management.