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Air Canada unveils first Airbus A220. What does it mean for travellers?

Air Canada’s newest plane makes first revenue flight
WATCH: Air Canada’s first Airbus A220 made its first revenue flight on Thursday, flying from Montreal to Calgary. As Michael King reports, those on board said they were impressed by the new plane.

Air Canada unveiled its first Airbus A220 jetliner at an event in Montreal on Wednesday morning.

The 137-seat aircraft is the first of an eventual 45 the airline aims to have flying by 2022.

The narrow-body aircraft — whose maiden voyage takes off for Calgary from Montreal on Thursday — grants Canada’s largest airline greater range and cost savings.

Mark Galardo, Air Canada’s vice-president of network planning, said the A220 allows the airline to open new routes that have not been financially viable in the past.

“For [Air Canada], it’s an airplane that will allow us to grow in North America, launch several new routes,” said Galardo.
Air Canada unveils Airbus A220 after long saga
Air Canada unveils Airbus A220 after long saga

Galardo said the company is targeting the West Coast for its first set of new routes, which include Montreal to Seattle and Toronto to San Jose, both to begin in spring.

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Passenger comfort

Rajbir Bhatti, an associate professor of supply chain management at Mount Royal University, said the introduction of the A220 will change the way Canadians fly.

“The cabins are larger, the overhead baggage is larger and the seats are wider,” said Bhatti. “The entire gameplan of how you fly regionally is likely to change.”

The 19-inch-wide seats are the largest in Air Canada’s fleet, and in keeping with the trend of integrating technology where possible, each passenger has their own plug-in and USB port.

Patrick Tompkins, Air Canada’s chief A220 pilot, said passengers may not initially recognize they are on a new A220 but will notice changes during flights — especially regarding cabin noise.

“It’s quite comfortable in the back [of the plane],” Tompkins said. “I think they’ll notice the quiet. It’s quite a quiet airframe.”
Lost luggage: What happens to your baggage after check-in
Lost luggage: What happens to your baggage after check-in

Fuel efficiency

Air Canada said a big reason for choosing the A220 as its next regional plane was environmental sustainability.

Galardo said the new jet emits 20 per cent less carbon dioxide than similar aircraft and allows for lower operating costs because of the composite material used to build the plane.

But when asked if those cost savings could be passed along to customers, Galardo didn’t answer directly.

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“For [Air Canada], the angle that we’re looking at is the creation of new route and the economic stimulus that comes from that,” Galardo said.

Bhatti said it is likely that the airline is looking into pricing changes.

“They may already be working on how to revenue share with the consumers and possibly pass on that benefit to them,” said Bhatti. “I’d love that as a consumer.”

Canadian-built

The plane was called the C Series before Bombardier Inc. gave up a controlling stake in the aircraft program in 2018 to Europe-based Airbus, which christened it the A220.

The airline said the order for 45 planes carried a list price of US$3.8 billion and made Air Canada the second North American carrier to fly the A220.

READ MORE: Bombardier’s C Series aircraft renamed by Airbus

All of Air Canada’s A220s on order will be built at what are now Airbus Canada’s facilities north of Montreal in Mirabel, Que.

Airbus also produces the planes at a new site in Mobile, Ala., mainly for U.S. customers including Delta, which operates 28 A220s and was the North American launch carrier for the plane.

Aircraft safety

Several European carriers have been operating the A220 for the past five years, including Swiss International Air Lines and airBaltic.

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Swiss grounded its fleet of 29 A220s in October 2019 following “technical irregularities on various Swiss short-haul flights,” but after comprehensive engine inspections, the airline resumed normal flights just a day after the grounding, according to officials.

Tompkins said those issues are to be expected when introducing a new plane.

“Every new platform and every new aircraft has some teething pains,” Tompkins said. “We anticipate that and we take a very proactive approach to safety.”

READ MORE: JetBlue and new low-cost U.S. airline order 120 planes made by Bombardier

Galardo said Air Canada was made aware of the issue before taking delivery of its first A220.

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“Transport Canada has… an airworthiness directive on the engine but as far as we’re concerned, there’s no major issue.”

Boeing implications

Air Canada’s launch of the A220 comes as the Boeing 737 MAX remains grounded worldwide.

Galardo said the large order of A220s was not impacted by recent events involving the Boeing aircraft.

“[The order was made] previous to the grounding of the MAX,” Galardo said. “We were supposed to have the MAX and the A220 so one doesn’t replace the other.”

READ MORE: Air Canada, WestJet keeping Boeing 737 MAX off their flight schedules until March

Galardo said the Embraer E175s will be phased out in favour of the A220s, but that the airline has pushed back the E175 retirements so it can fill the gaps left by the MAX.

– With files from The Canadian Press