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British Airways forced to reduce A320neo seating capacity due to safety concerns

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As if British Airways didn’t have enough to deal with at the moment, it has been forced to reduce the seating capacity on its new A320neo short-haul aircraft due to safety concerns.

BA has kept this quiet so far and I have not seen it reported elsewhere.

I should say upfront that I am not an aerospace engineer and I am guessing that you are not one either.  The situation as I describe it below is very much in laymans terms, but I have included a link to the official EASA notification.

We covered the launch of the new ‘Space Flex’ A320neo aircraft on Head for Points – see here.

These aircraft are not very pleasant to fly if you are down the back:

the toilet was removed from the back of Euro Traveller to fit in an additional row of seats, and replaced with micro-toilets built into the back wall of the galley

the seats behind the emergency exit door were replaced with ‘no recline’ ultra-thin Recaro seats to allow a second additional extra row of seats to be fitted in

duty free sales were dropped, because there was no space in galley for the trolley due to the loo moving there

drop down monitors were removed, along with the tables in Club Europe, to save weight

there are no waste facilities or drinking water at the rear of the plane because of the need to fit in the loo – this means all waste and requests for tap water require a trip through the Club Europe cabin

To summarise a major engineering problem in one line, this has caused a problem.  There is now too much weight at the very back of the aircraft.

During computer testing, it has been discovered that this could lead to problems in certain scenarios, such as during an aborted landing when the nose of the aircraft needs to be raised quickly.

Here is the exact wording of the directive issued by EASA – you can download it here:

Analysis and laboratory testing of the behaviour of the flight control laws of the A320neo identified a reduced efficiency of the angle of attack protection when the aeroplane is set in certain flight configurations and in combination with specific manoeuvres commanded by the flight crew, as described through Section 2 of Airbus Flight Operations Transmission 999.0059/19.

This condition, although never encountered during operations, if not corrected, could lead to excessive pitch attitude, possibly resulting in increased flight crew workload.

To address this potential unsafe condition, Airbus issued the AFM TR, limiting the centre of gravity envelope, which prevents the aforementioned condition, and the Flight Operations Transmission 999.0059/19, providing aeroplane loading recommendations.

There are almost 50 airlines currently flying the A320neo and all of those which have gone with the ‘Space Flex’ interior are facing the same issue.

However, the presence of Club Europe causes an additional problem for BA compared to ‘one class’ airlines flying the same aircraft.  Airlines operating the A320neo have been told to ensure that passengers are seated to ensure an even weight distribution.  However:

in Club Europe, the empty middle seat makes it difficult to move weight to the front of the aircraft

the extra seats squeezed into the second half of the plane vs the front half also lead to additional weight at the back

In order to address this, it appears that BA is often having to block the last one or two rows of the aircraft.  This is dependent on the number of rows of Club Europe and other factors such as cargo and baggage loading.  As well as not allowing passengers to select seats in those rows, cabin crew will also announce that passengers may not move to them after take-off.

This is not just a British Airways problem.  Lufthansa has also had to block seats on its ‘densified’ A320neo aircraft, although this is only one row.  BA is presumably being forced to block an additional row on occasion because it operates with larger business class cabins.  Other airlines with a ‘missing middle seat’ business class will also have to make adjustments.

As well as having a revenue impact, this clearly makes a farce of the entire ‘Space Flex’ programme.  The ultra-thin seats …. no recline …. reduced leg-room …. micro-toilets …. are all in vain unless Airbus can design a fix for the issue.  Let’s hope they can find something.

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Comments (154)

  • Nick_C says:

    Most people are blaming greedy airlines, but I think the problem lies with tight fisted passengers who simply want the cheapest possible fare and then complain about the lack of comfort.

    15 years ago, I used to fly AA because they had “more room throughout coach” giving you a 34″ seat pitch in economy. The experiment failed because it didn’t increase load factors. Most passengers (not readers of this site, obviously) don’t have a clue about what sort of aircraft they are flying on, or how the pitch / width compares to other airlines.

    Ryanair have proved that the masses are happy to be treated like cattle if they can fly for a penny.

    Unfortunately, this means its not easy to fly short or even medium haul in comfort in Europe.

    • Shoestring says:

      Ryanair didn’t treat me like cattle! It was perfectly OK, no airbridge to be sure – a small payment (£8?) gets you 2 cabin bags [Passengers with Priority & 2 Cabin Bags, Plus/Flexi ticket or a connecting flight ticket can bring 1 small cabin bag which must fit under the seat in front of them (40cm x 20cm x 25cm). Priority customers can also bring an additional 10kg bag on board which must fit into the baggage sizer (not exceeding 10kg and dimensions 55cm x 40cm x 20cm) and will be stored in the overhead locker.]

      new planes, good punctuality, pleasant youngish crew – perfectly OK experience

  • Nick says:

    BA
    Lol.

  • David S says:

    You pay Ryanair price, I expect to be treated Ryanair style such as 2 people vomitting after take off (stinking of alcohol) with no sick bags available on our last flight!!!
    However if I am paying BA prices,I am allowed to moan about service or lack of and uncomfortable seats. Thus have stopped flying BA short haul since I do find the new seats uncomfortable beyond about 90 minutes and fly others instead and being outside of London does help.

  • Garrett says:

    Let’s not hope they can fix it so people can travel more comfortably

  • Alex says:

    The issue ironically tends to be with large club cabins, as you can have the front half of the aircraft 2/3rds full. Couple that with people standing right at the back queuing for the the loo and the CofG starts to get quite far back.

  • pin perl says:

    Pregnant couldn’t even move in those toilets, had to squeeze out backwards……..

  • Calz says:

    I was on a a321 neo yesterday straight after reading this article. Cabin crew were mentioning that sometimes on arrival at the gate the plane rocks back slightly on a full flight, once CE have deplaned!

  • Tèbra du Plessis says:

    We had the best (worst) BA flight ever!
    We boarded BA040 Heathrow to Durban the 16th of September 2019. We sat in row 38H & K. All well…
    Literally immediately after dinner I developed the worst migraine ever! I had no tablets with me and we were only two hours into an eleven hour flight.
    I couldn’t sleep properly, I couldn’t watch a movie, I couldn’t walk around – I was throwing up and I knew that this wil be a very long flight. It was the most amazing crew on board. They brought me tea, ice cold wet clothes to put on my burning forehead. Their concerns were real – BA040 coach class crew – you made a terrible flight bearable. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Tèbra du Plessis l

    • Kerry says:

      Hi Tebra
      Are you happy for me to post this on the BA internal company site, so that your praise can get to the crew that assisted you?
      Thanks