A Frontier Airbus A320neo at the Airbus Delivery Center – Photo: A. Doumenjou | Airbus
In the last few years, engine technology has improved significantly for narrowbody aircraft. The competitive nature of the current short-haul U.S., European, and Asian domestic markets have airlines competing on cost and efficiency to offer the lowest possible ticket prices to their customers. The single biggest direct cost on almost all routes is the fuel that the aircraft burns, and burning less fuel is always better. Frontier Airlines is one of a few Ultra Low Cost Carriers (ULCC) in the U.S. that has been aggressively pursuing a modern, fuel efficient, all economy-class fleet to complement their ULCC business model. They are a U.S. launch customer for the Airbus A320neo (or New Engine Option) family of aircraft and also operated some of the first commercial flights with the CFM LEAP-1A engine. I was lucky enough to ride on one of these shiny new aircraft and talk to the flight crew about how it is changing the way we fly.
A sunny day in DTW. Thanks to the Captain for some great pictures! Photo: Kevin Horn
En-route to DEN high above the clouds. It’s great how quiet these new engines are at cruise. Photo: Kevin Horn
New Frontier Airbus A320 (N220FR) with sharklets – Photo: Frontier Airlines
Republic Airways Holdings has finally offloaded Frontier Airlines to a new owner, and right at the deadline. Earlier this week, Indigo Partners agreed to purchase Frontier and continue the push towards making them an ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC). Indigo and its head, William Franke, know a thing or two about ULCCs; up until recently they were responsible for Spirit Airlines’ growth to become a leader in the segment.
Frontier’s acquisition by a new owner obviously raises questions about their future, particularly as it relates to their home base of Denver International Airport. Since 2006, when Southwest Airlines started ramping up its presence, Denver has been a three-carrier hub (with United Airlines being the third). Many have doubted the stability and longevity of such an arrangement; as a Denver-based flyer, I can attest to the fact that the three carriers have managed to keep airfares extremely low.
Boeing is planning to go with a dual feather design that they are calling the “Advanced Technology” winglet (more on the name later). They are expecting the new winglet will save an additional 1.5% fuel burn versus the one currently on the 737.
737 MAX winglet video from Boeing
“The Advanced Technology winglet demonstrates Boeing’s continued drive to improve fuel burn and the corresponding value to the customer. With this technology and others being built into the MAX, we will extend our leadership,” said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Boeing states in their press release, that the 737 MAX will provide an 18% fuel burn advantage over the current Airbus A320. Unfortunately, they fail to compare the MAX to the new Airbus A320neo.
According to Airbus, the A320neo will have a 15% better fuel burn advantage over the current A320, so it appears the 737 MAX and A320neo will most likely be quite competitive to one another. I expect that these numbers, for both aircraft, will continue to change during development, so don’t get attached to them. It is safe to say that the 737 and A320 will continue to be direct competitors.
The Boeing 737 MAX 7, 8 and 9 showing off the winglets selected. Image from Boeing.
I am all for improving the 737 and I love following the changes, but I have to say that I am not too happy with the names that Boeing is coming up with. Although the MAX name has grown on me a bit since when I first heard about it (I was really not a fan), can’t Boeing come up with a better (and cooler) name than “Advanced Technology winglet?” I almost fell asleep just typing out that name.
Airbus has already stated that they are putting new winglets on the A320s and are calling them “sharklets.” That is a great name.
Yes, I know an airline is not going to choose the A320neo vs the 737 MAX based on the names (at least they better not), but the 737 and its new winglet are products that are deserving of creative names. Boeing has a history of coming up with classic names (Stratocruiser, Clipper, Dreamliner, etc). I just don’t see “MAX” and “Advanced Technology winglet” going down in the history books quite in the same way.