The Airbus A320 family is the world’s best selling single-aisle aircraft family, with over 12,400 orders. The A320, which we are looking at in this article, has carried more than 10.5 billion passengers to date, with one taking off or landing every two seconds.

It was, therefore, quite an exciting prospect when we were offered the opportunity to take a first-hand look at the brand new version, the A320neo. With just a few days after the aircraft entered into service, BusinessClass was part of the select few (about 70) to take part in the first press/ceremonial flight with Lufthansa, the first airline to fly the aircraft. The flight took place in the afternoon of February 12th, from Hamburg to Frankfurt, with the very first production unit and the only one delivered so far.

The CEO's of Pratt&Whitney, Lufthansa Group and Airbus

The CEO’s of Pratt&Whitney, Lufthansa Group and Airbus   – Photo: Jason Eckhoff

Photo: Jason Eckhoff

We are excited to share our impressions of the new aircraft. But first, let us take a look at the key features of the new aircraft. What are the main differences from the old A320?

The major innovation of the A320neo is its new engines – neo standing for “new engine option”. Engine maker Pratt&Whitney has raised the bar with the introduction of gears in the turbofan. Together with new Sharklet wing tips, we are looking at the very latest in fuel-efficient technology (reduced by 15%), resulting in lowered carbon emissions as well as a dramatically lowered noise footprint (reduced by 50%) – something that, in time, and as deliveries increase, will improve the lives of those living in close proximity to airports. Lower maintenance costs is another bonus, helping airlines to stay competitive.

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The new Pratt & Whitney engine. 202 cm diameter vs 144 in the old version.      Photo: Jason Eckhoff

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up close. stay clear…

With a staggering 4,400 A320neo already on order, and with a 60% marketshare compared with the Boeing 737 MAX, the A320-family is poised to hold its position as the most commonly employed aircraft around the world. I was, therefore, extremely intrigued as to what the improvements would mean for the onboard experience, having been promised nearly 50% reduction in noise footprint.

In terms of number of passengers, Lufthansa has managed to squeeze in another 12 passengers, upping to a total of 180. There is also a new air purification system with filters and a catalytic converter that removes toxic fumes and unpleasant smells from the air before it is pumped into the cabin.

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Prior to boarding, I was happy to have a hasty but pleasant one-on-one chat with Mr. Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa Group. Explaining to him the concept of BusinessClass and our users – the more experienced traveller – he acknowledged our efforts in addressing the premium travel sector, saying how important these customers and segment is for the Lufthansa Group.

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CEO Lufthansa Group, Mr Carsten Spohr with CEO of BusinessClass, Jason Eckhoff

Bidding farewell to this agreeable man, it was time to board the aircraft.

First impressions:

Interior

The main change Lufthansa has implemented, interior-wise, when configuring the A320neo, was the reintroduction of increased legroom for business class passengers. Premium passengers on the first 9 rows will now benefit from this. Business class passengers now have 36 cm legroom vs 30 for economy, a big difference actually. What if economy is full and business class still has a fair number of seats free; will a few lucky economy customers receive an upgrade to the more spacious seats at no extra cost? It remains to be seen.

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For passengers travelling in economy, the interior feels pretty much the same as in the current version of the A320. However, the version benefits from increased space for carry-on luggage.
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Increased space for carry-on luggage

Takeoff

Due to some unresolved tech issues, supposedly software-based, time on the ground was, for now, somewhat prolonged – the software issues are scheduled to be resolved by April. Until then, the new engines need some time to warm up. Once the engines rev up and we take to the skies, it feels as if we are rising quicker than normal through the atmosphere. Show-off for the ceremonial flight or real engine improvement?

In the air

View on the new sharklets...

View on the new sharklets…                                                                                      Photo: Jason Eckhoff

What we are looking for here is some clear understanding on experienced noise levels from inside the cabin. I am someone who has trouble flying without noise-cancelling headphones. For this first flight on the A320neo, I left them behind on purpose.

I am happy to confirm that the cabin does feel quieter with the new engines. Still a bit too much noise in the cabin for my ears, but it is definitely an improvement. I was not as weary as usual after the flight, although it was only a short leg.
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Verdict

More legroom for premium travellers, less noise and a bonus – a clearer conscience due to the aircraft’s reduced emissions – the A320neo is a step forward in the right direction. BusinessClass applauds airlines that invest in new technology to improve the comfort of travellers while staying competitive and contributing to saving the planet…