Resulting in an unprecedented situation in the history of commercial aviation worldwide, US plane maker Boeing has reportedly flagged “many potential hazards” in European rival Airbus’ future long-range, narrow body jet, the A321XLR. It is the first time ever that a plane maker criticizes a competitor’s aircraft regarding safety.
Someone may joke around the fact that, during the last couple of years, Boeing has had such an ‘intense relationship’ with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) because of the 737 MAX safety and the 787 fuselage issues, as to have somehow inverted roles, pretending to be an observer, if not a regulator, instead of simply a plane maker.
But, more seriously, the shot is one of the symptoms of the deep crisis Boeing is living because of the 737 MAX’s saga, which exposed the Chicago-based manufacturer to being criticized worldwide for its ethics. Beside that, Boeing is succumbing to Airbus in point of aircraft reliability, effectiveness of its products on the market and planning ability.
Currently, the US plane maker hasn’t got a credible competitor, as in point of onboard comfort as of performances, for the A320neo; let alone for the A321XLR, which will have a range of 4,700nm (8,300km) and has been welcomed so enthusiastically by the industry as to receive more than 450 orders in the few months that separated its official presentation at the 2019 Paris Airshow from the onset of the Covid pandemic. While the XLR hoards tons of orders,
Boeing is still working towards the development of its own mid-size, long-range jet that would compete directly with the Airbus aircraft. And the Boeing 737 MAX is a continuous headache for its creators, with a new halt to all deliveries announced a few days ago as a consequence of electrical issues on the aircraft.
After saying that, one must not forget that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has raised its own concerns about the placement of the additional tanks that allow the XLR to fly so far. In order to hold additional fuel reserves, the design of the new aircraft includes a fuel tank that is essentially moulded into the fuselage under the passenger cabin.
This could pose safety threats, EASA says, should the plane skid off the runway or if its landing gear failed. And, more at large, in case of fire: “An integral fuselage fuel tank exposed to an external fire, if not adequately protected, may not provide enough time for the passengers to safely evacuate the aircraft”. The EASA has already asked Airbus to make required changes to its design under the conditions of the new fuel tanks.
“Public consultation is part-and-parcel of an aircraft development program,” an Airbus spokesman said, adding that any issues raised would be tackled together with regulators. As a result of a tighter oversight regarding the tank issue, the entry into service of the A321XLR, initially planned for 2023, could be pushed back.
For decades, competition among aircraft manufacturers, supervised by regulators, has been the key-factor of innovation in aviation. All that deviates from that risks to cause incomprehension and chaos.
What do you think of Boeing flagging safety issues regarding a competitor’s aircraft? Let the Guru know!