Finnair received, as the first airline in the world, a new A321 Sharklet aircraft from Airbus in Hamburg in the beginning of September, so it’s a good time to take a look at what goes on during an aircraft purchase. The purchase agreements are normally signed years before the aircraft deliveries and for brand new aircraft types even when the aircraft is still in design phase and no actual parts have been manufactured. Airlines have a fair amount of say in the final configuration of the aircraft and this customization is done depending on the aircraft type some 1-3 years before the aircraft delivery. The A320 series for example has already been in production for 25 years and the A321 Sharklet Finnair received now, got serial number 5758. In a serial production mode like this, the customization is done roughly one year before delivery. The A350 aircraft type on the other hand is still in design phase, and Finnair has already made customization decisions three years before the first delivery, which is scheduled in the second half of 2015.
Most possibilities for customization are in the cabin, where we aim to differentiate from other airlines by our interior design and service level. We have the possibility to select the passenger seat type, seat pitch, in-flight entertainment system and galley equipment and to design the overall cabin look and feel. Out of these the passenger seats are actually also bought by the airline directly from the seat supplier. The decision on which seat type to choose is determined by comparing different products by their price, weight, sitting comfort and post delivery support conditions. On the technical side the single most important decision is to determine the engine type by comparing fuel efficiencies and predicted maintenance costs. On top of this there are roughly a hundred other smaller technical decisions.
The customization of the aircraft Finnair is now receiving has largely aimed at fitting them into our existing fleet at seamlessly as possible. The seat and cabin look and feel are identical to exiting aircraft and most other decisions have been made for commonality reasons. The biggest differences are the sharklets, extra fuel tanks and a more fuel efficient engine type. In addition Airbus is constantly developing the aircraft further, so as a whole the aircraft look technically quite different than the last A321 series aircraft we received from Airbus in 2004. Finnair will be receiving all together five A321 Sharklet aircraft of which three during this year and the last two in the beginning of 2014.
The A321 Final Assembly Line is located in Hamburg, and fuselage parts are shipped there from Airbus facilities in England, France, other parts of Germany and Spain and smaller components are of course manufactured all over the world. Finnair monitors the manufacturing of the aircraft very closely and for this aircraft has for example inspected the wings in England, front fuselage in France and passenger seats in Poland. The most important inspection of the two month Final Assembly is the Cabin Check during which all details of the cabin are inspected.
The actually delivery of the aircraft takes one week and is comprised of the physical and operational checks and the inspection of all the paperwork coming with the aircraft. For the operational test a pilot first checks the aircraft behaviour on ground. This is followed by a taxiing test, engine test runs and finally a test flight. This so called acceptance flight lasts normally around two hours during which the aircraft flight characteristics are inspected. This includes for example flying on maximum and minimum speeds and angles of attack and at maximum bank angles. These should trigger specific cockpit alerts and this is also verified. Things that cannot be performed on ground are also checked, for example cabin pressure leak rate and automatic oxygen mask deployment during pressurization failure, emergency gravity extension of the landing gear and deployment of the airflow powered ram air turbine. During the flight the aircraft is obviously very light and it is amazing how powerful the acceleration feels when coming out of the low speed test!
When all three parts of the inspection are adequately performed and Airbus has rectified the findings, the delivery is concluded by the ceremonious signing of the Bill of Sale. Once we have taken care of formalities with the Finnish Civil Aviation Authority, like registering the aircraft, adding it into the Finnair Air Operator Certificate, getting all needed Airworthiness Documents and insured the aircraft, it can be flown to our home base in Helsinki. After the addition of some specific equipment the aircraft is finally ready to serve our customers.
A350 Program Fleet Manager