The story of the Airbus A220, formerly known as the Bombardier CSeries, is truly the story of an ugly duckling. While the plane barely scraped by with limited demand in the market under the CSeries name, the A220 bloomed into a beautiful white swan that is a very hot item amidst airlines. The program marked a very significant milestone on June 2, 2020, as the first United States-built aircraft performed its first flight, undergoing testing procedures before landing at Delta Air Lines’ main hub in Atlanta and subsequently, its fleet.

Despite the current pandemic that has ravaged the financial sheets of airlines and manufacturers alike, the narrow-body has scraped by. Apart from temporary closures to its manufacturing facilities due to governmental orders, the A220 has survived production rate cuts that Airbus announced in April 2020, despite the fact that all other programs were downsized.

But its planned production rate ramp-up in Mirabel, Canada was delayed by a year, a week after the mentioned production cuts. Airbus’ facilities would pump out four aircraft per month for the time being. The company planned to ramp-up the monthly rate in mid-2021 and be able to build 10 aircraft per month.

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While the European planemaker managed to net 21 orders for commercial aircraft during March 2020, deliveries have slowed: Airbus handed off 55 aircraft to customers in February, while in March 2020, the company delivered 36 jets.
 

Affiliation with the United States market

Nevertheless, the affiliation of the program to the United States has only gotten stronger. Previously, Airbus manufactured the A220 in the United States in a joint-Final Assembly Line (FAL) with the A320 program in Mobile, Alabama. On May 19, 2020, the European manufacturer opened an independent FAL for the A220, which allows Airbus to build an extra four jets per month.

In total, the manufacturer is now capable of building eight jets per month. Guillaume Faury, the chief executive officer of Airbus, stated during the company’s yearly results press conference that it planned to break-even with the program in 2025 with the potential to deliver over 160 aircraft per year. The breaking-even part is crucial, especially in the context of a dedicated FAL in Alabama: the facility allows Airbus to dodge U.S. imposed tariffs on its aircraft destined to United States-based airlines.

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From March 2020, the United States will raise the customs tariffs imposed on Airbus aircraft imported from Europe from 10% to 15%, in retaliation for the subsidies received by the European aircraft manufacturer.
 

And the A220 has found a very comfortable place under the 50 state sun: out of the total 642 orders for the aircraft, 225 are directly designated to customers based in the United States, excluding orders via leasing companies. The region represents 35% of the total demand for the aircraft. After all, the A220 is not alone in its segment, as the Embraer E195-2 is breathing down its neck as a competitor. Furthermore, the familiarity with the E195 allows any potential E195-2 operators to save on transition costs, while the Bombardier-designed jet is a standalone product: a bump in price due to tariffs could have killed the A220’s competitiveness against the E2 family.

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While the Airbus A220-300 could throw a helping hand towards Boeing 737 MAX operators, what about its most direct competitor, the Embraer E195-E2? 
 

Thus, the first flight of the Mobile-built Airbus A220 marks a significant stage in the company‘s future. While the A319neo is also present, it barely has any demand with 84 total orders and two deliveries left. The A220 is seemingly becoming the aircraft that will carry Airbus’ flag in the under-150 seat segment. The company previously indicated that the aircraft, painted in Delta’s colors during the flight, was destined to reach the Atlanta-based airline in Q3 2020. Whether the coronavirus pandemic changed the plans is currently unclear.

AeroTime News approached Airbus for comment.

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