Key Points:

  • The A321XLR program initiated its Functional and Reliability (FnR) testing, comprising approximately 100 hours of flight over 10 days, aiming to demonstrate the system's maturity ahead of its 2024 EASA type certification.

  • The FnR tests involve real airline and cabin crews, Airbus test pilots, and a group of volunteer passengers to provide a realistic feedback loop and mimic actual airline conditions, involving various climates and airport infrastructures.

  • Apart from certification-related processes, Airbus has implemented maturity testing to prevent early system failures and to collect early feedback from customers for continuous improvement.

Airbus Tests A321XLR's Reliability and System Maturity with Real Crews and Passengers

TOULOUSE —Airbus has embarked on the next crucial phase of its A321XLR program, initiating a rigorous international flight-test regimen known as the Functional and Reliability Testing (FnR) to scrutinize the aircraft’s system maturity well ahead of its scheduled service entry following the anticipated EASA Type Certification in 2024.

The Roots and Rationale Behind FnR Testing

In a step towards realizing the primary goal of the FnR, Airbus envisages clocking around 100 flying hours over a span of 10 days without a system power-down. Drawing on the expertise of Airbus' Lead Flight Test Engineer for the A321XLR’s FnR exercise, Jim Fawcett, the campaign accentuates not just the aircraft’s performance but its technical reliability and maturity. Highlighting the importance of the testing, Fawcett elucidated that the certification necessities dictate a 150-hour flight representing routine airline-like operations under all standard dispatch conditions.

Real Crews and Volunteers Aboard the Prototype

Reaching a milestone, for the first time since its inaugural flight in June 2022, the aircraft designated ‘MSN 11080’ will offer a tangible experience to real airline and cabin crews alongside Airbus test pilots. A cohort of around 30 volunteers, comprising Airbus and airline employees, will be simulating passenger experiences, providing authentic feedback as the aircraft traverses diverse climates, operational profiles, and airport infrastructures. The feedback garnered from these flights will be pivotal in fine-tuning the aircraft’s features and functionalities.

A Strategic Focus on Maturity Testing

Beyond just adhering to EASA’s guidelines, Airbus has instituted a maturity testing initiative, conceptualized to evaluate the aircraft's performance during continuous operation, replicating the strains it would undergo in an airline operational environment. This approach is designed to preempt ‘infant mortality’ issues — early failures in system components when subjected to prolonged usage in real operational contexts. The insights obtained from this parallel testing trajectory intend to drive system maturity, leveraging customer feedback and operational expertise.

Ground Support and Maintenance Synchronization

The ground crews play a decisive role in this comprehensive testing phase, being responsible for ensuring the swift turnaround of the aircraft in a real-service simulation. Airbus’ Maintenance Control Center (MCC) in Toulouse will be vigilantly monitoring the aircraft round the clock, equipped to identify and address forthcoming maintenance issues, replicating the diligence applied in actual airline settings.

Feedback and Adjustments Post Flight-Test

Following the execution of the flight tests, Airbus transitions to the assessment and reporting stage, involving an intricate analysis of customer feedback and data acquired through Flight Test Instrumentation (FTI). Airbus commits to a continuous improvement pathway, with plans to update the aircraft's definition based on the feedback, even after the Type Certification and before the Entry Into Service (EIS), thereby promising an optimized product to its launch customers.

Underlying Improvements to Meet Expectations

Fawcett emphasized the nuanced behind-the-scenes improvements in the A321XLR, enhancing its structural integrity and optimizing control-surface adaptations to facilitate safe take-offs at higher weights. While retaining the Airspace cabin familiar to the existing A321neos, the new variant features improved thermal and acoustic insulation, supplemented by enhanced ventilation and heating systems, ensuring a comfortable journey even during extended high-altitude flights.

The A321XLR program stands at a pivotal juncture where detailed feedback from real crews and passengers will dictate the final touches to an aircraft that promises seamless integration into existing fleets while offering an extended range. This endeavor, according to Fawcett, is to ensure the A321XLR remains “exactly like what we know” but with an “extra boost of range,” meeting the exact needs of the industry stakeholders.