Airbus test-flies its A320 jet with new winglets made by Aviation Partners

Thursday, December 18, 2008, 19:51 by Aviation Correspondent

Airbus Industrie, the aircraft-manufacturing giant based in Toulouse, France, has test-flown one of its Airbus A320 jets with new winglets designed and developed by Aviation Partners, a private corporation based in a Seattle, Washington, the United States, which produces and markets winglet systems.

The test-flight conducted in Toulouse, France, was a part of an ongoing evaluation by Airbus to study if the up-swooping winglets can bring about considerable fuel efficiency and performance gains.

According to a press release from Aviation Partners Incorporated, if the evaluation is positive, Airbus intends to offer the winglets to all its customers of A320 planes. (Over 3,600 A320 planes are flying worldwide.)

An Airbus A320 test flight with blended winglets

An Airbus A320 test flight takes off to test blended winglets

Aviation Partners said these winglets have been specifically designed for the Airbus A320. The company’s blended winglets are currently being used on Boeing 737, 757 and 767 aircraft around the world, as well as smaller aircraft such as Falcon 2000, Citation and Hawker 800 series. Aviation Partners say that their winglet retrofits result in 7 % fuel savings on the Hawker 800 and as much as 6 % drag reduction on the Boeing aircraft. Other benefits widely acknowledged are improved takeoff performance, increased payload-range, less engine maintenance costs and lower airport noise and emissions.

Many airlines, the press release said, and aircraft manufacturers around the world other than Airbus have approached Aviation Partners “to see if winglets could make a difference for their aircraft.”

Airbus Industrie, the aircraft-manufacturing subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), a European aerospace consortium, produces around half of the world’s jet airliners.

In a statement, Airbus said: “In conjunction with follow-up analyses, they will provide data on the overall viability of the devices and help to determine whether Aviation Partners’ technology could be considered for an integrated Airbus programme.”

In 2006, Airbus undertook back-to-back flight testing of two other winglet designs – one developed in-house and the other by Winglet Technology of the United States. “These tests,” the Airbus statement explained, “had the target of finding a couple of percent performance gain. However, at the time, Airbus could not find sufficient improvement to offset the weight increase caused by the strengthening required.”

On the latest trial, Patrick Gavin, Airbus’ executive vice-president (engineering) said in the statement: “We continue to work on further improving the eco-efficiency of all our aircraft. These early evaluation tests are a milestone that needs to be achieved long before implementation.”

Aviation Partners Incorporated was founded in 1991 by Joe Clark and Dennis Washington, bringing together a team consisting primarily of retired engineers and flight test department directors from Boeing and Lockheed. In 1999, Aviation Partners, in a joint venture with the Boeing Company, formed Aviation Partners Boeing (APB), which licenses the Blended Winglet Technology for use on a wide range of Boeing designed aircraft.

According to Aviation Partners, blended winglets cut fuel consumption by up to 7% as well as increase the aircraft’s range by up to 180 nautical miles. “This enables the blended winglet-equipped plane to fly non-stop across the United States, go from California to Hawaii, or comfortably reach Jeddah from Paris. A plane can also complete shorter missions with greater payload and fuel reserves.”

An American Airlines Boeing with Aviation Partners blended winglets

An American Airlines Boeing with Aviation Partners blended winglets

Over 3,000 airplanes worldwide are flying with winglets made by Aviation Partners – with about 2,850 of them being Boeing airliners, and the rest are business jets such as the Gulfstream II.

The Aviation Partners press release says that, at present, all Boeing 737 planes rolling out of Boeing’s plant in Renton, Washington, the United States, are fitted with the blended winglets. In addition, leading airlines, including Southwest Airlines, have retrofitted their entire fleets.

The company has also developed winglets for the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767, and “plans are afoot” to develop winglets for the Boeing 777.