"Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying." - Neil Armstrong
[PHOTO] Demo flight - Airbus A220 in Zagreb
Written by: Ivo Gračanin.
What to say, how to start this article. The coronavirus nailed us to the ground, virtually shutting down travel. I personally haven’t flown in over 2 years. My last flight was on the way back from Brussels to Budapest. If someone had told me then, now that's it, you won't be on the plane again so soon, you'd think there's no way, you're talking nonsense. But it did happen, air travel almost stopped, taking a trip by plane was very difficult, sometimes almost impossible. Tests, quarantines, vaccinations, all possible obstacles had to be crossed in order for a person to get on the plane.
A few days ago, information came that Airbus would arrive in Zagreb with its A220-300 aircraft from airBaltic, and would present it to the media and potential buyers. Honestly, it surprised me, I did not expect something like that in Zagreb, at least not in the near future. As icing on the cake, information arrived on how the presentation flight will be organized, and how I will have the opportunity to be on it. What to say about that moment, other than I was surprised and bewildered. This kind of opportunity does not come every day, especially not for such a presentation flight.
For me, this flight had a special meaning, I added another type of aircraft in the collection of aircraft I flew, and with this I completed the entire A220 series. I had the opportunity to fly with a number of smaller Airbus A220-100 from SWISS, and it was a really interesting experience for me, to be in a regional aircraft that surprises you with comfort, spaciousness, window size, really with everything. So the A220-300 from airBaltic couldn't surprise me that much, because this is just a manufactured version of the A220-100. Let's start with the story.
We first had a presentation by Airbus and airBaltic. The presentation took place in the old terminal of Zagreb Airport. I already mentioned I hadn’t flown in a while, but this was another recollection of history. The old terminal is unfortunately empty. It evokes memories of some pleasant flights from Zagreb. When we all used to squeeze in that small waiting room around 8 in the morning, at the time of a normal morning rush hour, the place had a certain charm, it felt good to be there.
Airbus representative Claude Debeauquenne explained the basic characteristics of the aircraft, its capabilities, and the potential of basing such an aircraft in Zagreb. It could fly to North Africa, the Middle East, and all of Europe. So his possibilities are great. Currently, about 5 aircraft are delivered per month, next year 6, and the goal is to deliver 14 aircraft per month. The emphasis was on the reduced fuel consumption, and at the same time, the reduction of emissions of harmful gases into the atmosphere.
It was interesting to listen to the details from someone who operates that aircraft in the fleet. AirBaltic and its director Martin Gauss are thrilled with it. The A220 is the only type of aircraft in their fleet. Interesting information is that airBaltic has grounded its fleet of Dash 8-Q400 aircraft, and still pays the lease for them. It is cheaper and more economical to keep them on the ground, and all fly with the A220. They also mentioned flying on flights of 30 minutes to up to 7 hours, so the aircraft is very flexible in that regard. The plane can make a short flight and then pull on a longhaul to Dubai or Tenerife. When they had a 737 in the fleet, they compared it to the A220 on a flight to London Gatwick and came up with some interesting conclusions. The A220 is on average 4 minutes faster, consumes 25% less fuel, and thus saves about $ 775 after the flight. It may not seem like much at first, but if you take into account the return daily flight, the fuel savings alone are almost $ 600,000, on one flight and one aircraft. Consider the entire fleet of about thirty A220 aircraft, a few flights a day and see how much savings there are. One aircraft brings them about $ 20 million in revenue for a year. They are very proud of their planes, which are painted in the flags of the Baltic countries, and the passengers themselves love them very much.
When asked if there is a possibility of extending the aircraft to the A220-500 variant, Airbus answered that they are currently developing -100 and -300, and someday there might be a possibility for something like that. So even if there is an extension, it will also affect the A320neo series, because they overlap in terms of passenger cabin capacity and flight characteristics.
After the presentation, we headed out to take a closer look at the plane. The aircraft is registered YL-ABD, and was delivered to airBaltic only recently, at the end of August, so it is brand new.
I personally like the coloring of the plane itself, of course because I like the green color, especially the "nuclear green" one. Although most airlines in the world use the same principle, the tail and a little part below the tail is in color, everything else is white, but airBaltic has its engines painted green as well. Without that it would be boring. The aircraft is also beautifully designed, its "snout" has a rather wicked appearance, and the large engines show power.
We were able to get on the plane and see what it looked like from the inside. The interior is light, a large amount of light is given by the windows that are larger than, for example, those on Airbus A320 series or Boeing 737. The cabin has a 3-2 layout, or three seats on the right side of the aisle, and 2 seats on the left. For those who like symmetry like me, it bothers them a bit, but you get used to it very quickly.
The cockpit was also open, so of course you have to peek inside. It is dominated by large screens, and of course Bombardier adopted Airbus' sidestick philosophy when designing this aircraft.
The seats in the passenger cabin are comfortable, I must admit. After an hour of sitting in them I didn’t feel uncomfortable, but I should be sitting for 7 hours so then I might have different comments. The seats are upholstered in leather, which is of course a good thing, as they are much easier to maintain than those upholstered in fabric. The distance between the seats is enough, there really is room, it's not like with some other carriers where you kneel in the seat in front. I am 184 cm tall and I had plenty of room. The width of the seat is also large enough to accommodate it comfortably. From the equipment on the seats we have two more small compartments for little things like cell phones.
A pull-out table that is also quite large.
Hand luggage compartments are very spacious.
One of the favorite little things is definitely the small display that shows the map and basic information during the flight. For anyone who loves to fly this is crucial information. How many times during your flight have you wondered where you are now, how fast you travel, at what altitude you are. For this idea we really have to thank the designers.
There are two toilets in the back of the plane, and one in the front.
We also peeked into the cabin crew area in the back, there is a galley with all the food and beverage equipment.
We headed back to the terminal. It was very crowded, everyone wanted to see that modern plane, take a photo or two.
We had to wait about half an hour and then came the highlight of this presentation - the flight! We reporters were loaded first, and we had an almost empty plane to ourselves. After a few minutes, the other participants in the flight came and filled the plane.
This is a very important piece of paper. :)
At the presentation I had the opportunity to ask the pilots if they might know where we will fly. They said a flight was planned to the sea, to Rijeka and back. We should be in the air for about 45 minutes. When we all boarded, they explained the plan and how we would fly. After taking off, we would make a right turn in the direction of the sea. Upon reaching the island Pag, we would turn north to Cres, Rijeka and return back. The weather was ideal for flying, sun, cloudless, ideal, we would enjoy.
The engines start and we move. Finally! I will finally fly again! Just in front of us, a Lauda took off, we came to the runway, waited a few minutes and set off. We're taking off!
The winglets were also green, as well as the inscription airBaltic on them. The engines also have an airline sign. This is a very good marketing trick, because we know that the vast majority of passengers have to take one or two photos during the flight and post it on social media later. This is how they have free advertising.
I had a chance to walk to the cockpit and peek inside. The jump seat was occupied, so the view wasn’t perfect, but enough to fulfill the dream of peeking through the cockpit windshield. The view is of course amazing, only the windows are quite low. We were just close to Velebit and the sea. The excitement in the cabin was immediately apparent as everyone took out their cell phones and photographed the fantastic scenes.
Flying over our islands and sea just calls for taking out your camera. This is where the captured photos really have to be filtered well, as dozens of photos could be posted.
The pilots noted that they will try to arrange for us to descend low, to enjoy the view even better, if the Air Traffic Control agrees. We descended to some 4,500ft, and then we were caught in light turbulence and climbed back to 7,000ft. At that altitude we flew over Rijeka. Istria was nice to see here.
You can also see the Rijeka airport and the bridge to Krk. We soon reached Novi Vinodolski and turned back towards Zagreb.
We are approaching Zagreb.
Short deploy of the air brake
AirBaltic also has Zagreb in mind as a potential destination, one day in the future. We hope as soon as possible, because with them you have the opportunity to connect to the Baltic and Scandinavia.
The cabin crew members were very friendly and always at your service.
What to say in the end, except it was fabulous! We thank Airbus and everyone who made such a unique opportunity possible.
As for the A220 aircraft, we can only hope to see it with 9A registration as soon as possible.