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

  1. I just don’t trust BA and whilst this issue is not limited to them, I think BA have a reputational issue with trust.

    And why has this major safety concern not been more widely reported? ( though given this country’s psycho drama with Brexit that’s perhaps no surprise)

    Hopefully a media outlet will pick this up and run with it. People need to know that there may be additional risks flying on this aircraft.

    • letBAgonesbe says:

      Actually BA has an outstanding safety record and one of the safest airline in the world.

      • And as mentioned above I believe it’s Airbus’s fault – BA doesn’t design aircraft.

        • But BA does fit out aircraft with seats etc

          • Not exactly fair to hold BA on the hook for something nobody (not even Airbus!) knew about until recently…

          • @Froggitt. Yes BA has densified existing A320s without any issue with CofG. It’s the newly delivered Neos that have the problem. It’s a more an Airbus issue to resolve than the purchasing airline’s.

    • Head for points is a media outlet.

      There is no safety concern unless BA ignore airbus. Which they won’t.

      If I were a shareholder I’d be cross that they didn’t bottom this out with Airbus prior to the refit. It’s not hard with computer modelling these days.

  2. Perhaps some nice heavy proper business class seats at the front of the plane could help to move the COG forwards. The sort you find in Domestic First in the US. This could also mean that CE was worth paying for.

    • The Original David says:

      Or at least re-install the CE tables!

      • Apparently the CE table also has something to do with the cabling for the new power sockets although I couldn’t work out how when I had a look inflight.

    • When I first read your post I misread “seat” for “passengers” in your sentence. 🙂

      I like the recliner seats that Bangkok Airways has in its business class. But then BA would be limited to the exact number of seats and couldn’t simply move the divider back to increase the CE cabin.

  3. …..when cost cutting and making customer experience more unpleasant finally backfires.

  4. Whilst queuing for the toilets at the back of an airbus320 recently I noted that the back row of seats doesn’t even have a window.

  5. NigelthePensioner says:

    …..which basically means that on “going round” the plane could flip into a backwards somersault! Maybe redundant portly Europhile politicians could be employed to sit in the front few rows to act as ballast after 31st October? It brings a whole new skill to Team Cruz in the “micro” world – micro (ability) management!

    • That wouldn’t work, they are just a bunch of windbags full of hot air and full of themselves. I think instead of receiving seats at the front they should be forced to travel steerage!

      • I see that we still have a few brexiteers around with the brain turned off (or permanently disabled). Maybe they should fly more often with a 737 max with s faulty pitch reading then?

        On that note BA’s decision to take an option to buy a 1940’s aircraft design and call it a safe plane (CEO quote), goes along with that kind of braindead logic that is besitting the country these days…

  6. I had read this elsewhere over the weekend – only for another airline. I’ll try and find it.

    • Michael D says:

      Could be Lufthansa you’re thinking of, I happened to come across it yesterday on OMAAT. Perhaps overshadowed by the Boeing cargo door test news, which was a bit clickbaity.

  7. It’s called ballast!

  8. Or let’s hope they don’t find a fix and BA have to back track on densification…

    • Shoestring says:

      the fix is already in place, see article!

      [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.]

      • So effectively, either the rear hold or the rearmost rows of seats will have to be empty (or have reduced weight in them) thus keeping the centre of gravity within the new approved envelope, until a long term fix can be found.

    • Haha, yeah. There’s another solution involving filling middle seats in the front cabin…

  9. Aerospace Engineer says:

    “I should say upfront that I am not an aerospace engineer and I am guessing that you are not one either”

    Some of us are.

  10. I flew on one of these to Malaga in CE and noticed the lack of table between the seats. I also wondered why there was no on board purchases magazine. Now I know!

    I must say I think the seat is actually quite comfortable and like the no-recline function meaning no backrest in my face. The biggest criticism I have is the location of the power and USB socket on the leg under the seat. You have to be a contortionist to be able to put the power lead into the USB socket as it is really not visible. Why they couldn’t position it on the back of the armrest of the seat in front is beyond me. I also had to ask the cabin crew to switch on the power. They apologised and said they forgot but I think.its a deliberate ploy to save fuel.

    But now from the article my biggest criticism is of BA and Airbus for the potential safety issue.

    • If you were in CE then your seat was the same seat as in all other BA short haul aircraft for past 5 years+ (ie. thicker padding & able to recline). It’s only the seats behind the emergency exit rows (13+ on an A320) that have the slimline, non reclining seats.

      • Sorry, you’re right, there was a recline function in my particular seat in CE. I don’t usually recline on short haul anyway as I think it’s rude to the passenger behind and for 2-4 hours perfectly ok not to. That said I do think the non recline function is good for the reason I stated.

  11. Why on earth didn’t they research this in advance? Pack extra seats in and they block 2 rows because there’s too many seats… what a genius move that was

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