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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)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Dawn says:

    nothing like making a nervous flyer even more nervous! I’m booked on one of these to Dublin and wondered why they’d blocked off the last row of seats. 🙁

  • John Clifford says:

    Let’s hope they can’t find a solution and we all return to a decent work an passenger environment. The space flex concept is just diabolical

  • Lady London says:

    Well Rob I think this article and the fun in the comments (very “British”) just shows why HfP and its readership are so unique.

    I can’t think of any other blog I’ve come across where there would be such an insightful yet neutrally presented post about information that might escape frequent flyers’ notice, but is highly interesting to them. And there is never another blog which would have had the same set of readers having such fun with the comments, and yet also being so knowledgeable and insightful.

  • John says:

    People may not like the new Economy seats on the Neo. I think they are brilliant. I am 6ft 8inch (2m) and knowing that the rude people can’t recline into my already crushed knees is wonderful. I found them perfectly comfortable for a sub four hour flight back from ATH. Toilets were not a problem either and you really don’t want to be drinking tap water on an aircraft in the first place. I will actively seek the Neo over other aircraft from now on for this reason.

    • JohnK says:

      You do realise those people reclining aren’t being “rude” surely? They almost certainly have no idea what height you are. Doing something out of ignorance doesn’t necessarily mean they are being rude.

  • Ali Bentley says:

    Has BA (or anyone else) considered the shear amount of ‘hand’ luggage that makes it on to domestic and short haul flights since payment for checked in bags arrived? There is no check on the weight of such luggage or the number of bags taken in board if a passenger self checks in. Some airlines limit the weight of hand luggage, but BA has no idea how much weight there is in passengers’ hand luggage. Scoot, the budget arm of Singapore Airline, only allow 7kg for example. I have seen people on domestic UK flights with two wheeled cabin bags as well as other bags, without any challenge.

    • Alex M says:

      exactly my thoughts. Add passengers’ weight to the equation and and uncertainty with the weight balance gets even higher – 10 average Americans are 900-1000 kg, 10 Chinese grandmas are 400-500 kg, quite a substantial difference.

    • John says:

      The 46kg hand luggage limit is why I fly BA.

    • Steve says:


  • jimA says:

    if its a question of balance of the aircraft then the further from the centre of gravity the more impact extra weight will make

    So BA need fatter pilots

    • Alex M says:

      …so they need to earn more to afford even more food – is that what you are alluding to?

  • Maccymac says:

    BA being so tight that even the laws of Physics have had enough

  • Stephen Harman says:

    This does feel a bit backward (pardon the pun), clearly airbus computer model is better than mine but I would have guessed that the mostly air volume if space that bathrooms take up in the former galley is lighter than the galley full of food, booze and duty free and that will be the furthest from the COG so have most impact.
    Then make sure Billy, who ate all the pies is not in the back row, bish bosh.

    • SimonW says:

      But also consider the extra weight of 12 more people plus baggage across the 2 extra rows at the back…. 1000KG?

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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