Airbus is showing off its newest single-aisle plane in New Zealand just as regulators overseas are imposing tougher checks and restrictions following engine problems.

In the United States the Federal Aviation Administration is demanding more stringent checks of the new generation Pratt & Whitney engines which follows reports regulators in Canada and Europe have instructed that A220s be flown at no more than 94 per cent full power above 29,000ft (8800m).

A demonstration flight from Auckland today on an airBaltic plane was flown according to the same rules. The 90-minute flight took around 60 passengers, including Air New Zealand and Air Chathams staff, on a loop around the central North Island.

Among the passengers was a group of four teenage plane spotters who had turned up to see the first A220 and airBaltic plane to ever have visited. They had the day of their lives when they were invited on board by Airbus and airline executives for the flight.


The near-new aircraft had flown more than 18,000km to Auckland without any problems.

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There are more than 500 orders for the A220, which is slightly smaller than Airbus A320s used on domestic jet routes in New Zealand and on some short-haul international routes. The A220-300 has maximum seating for 160 passengers but is being promoted as an aircraft for ''long thin routes'' because of its range and engine efficiency.

Rodrigo Lezama, Airbus' single-aisle family product marketing manager, said he could not discuss which airlines he would be meeting here.

But Air New Zealand is likely to be a target of what could be a long campaign.

Inside the airBaltic A220 plane in Auckland. It has a 3-2 seat configuaration. Photo / Dean Purcell
Inside the airBaltic A220 plane in Auckland. It has a 3-2 seat configuaration. Photo / Dean Purcell

During the Asia-Pacific demonstration tour, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said this week it was a ''very good aircraft'' and there is speculation it could replace some the airline's older domestic planes.

The A220 cabin has a 3-2 seat configuration in Economy and if fitted with Business Class they seats are in a 2-2 pattern. Air Vanuatu has bought the aircraft and will fly it to Auckland next year.

Six airlines are flying around 90 of the planes but engines powering the plane (and rival Embraer E2 aircraft) have caused problems with Swiss airline.


It temporarily grounded its fleet of A220s in mid-October after a third flight in as many months was forced to divert or return to base with engine damage.

About 65 of the global fleet of 90 is affected by the new requirements.

Airbus says there had been a limited number of engine-related incidents and it was working with Pratt & Whitney to identify the root cause.

"In the interim we have initially requested that airlines operating the engine variant involved undertake inspections within 15 flight cycles," a spokeswoman said.

''The measures introduced enable ongoing safe operation of the fleet pending the outcome of the investigations.''

Lezama said the engine issues hadn't affected sales.

''We have tremendous momentum,'' he said.

The A220 was previously known as the Bombardier C-Series until Airbus completed the purchase of a majority stake in the aircraft programme last year.

The A220 family (there is a smaller -100 model) have been specifically designed for the 100-150 seat market.

Airbus says the engines feature 20 per cent lower fuel burn per seat than previous-generation aircraft, half the noise footprint, and decreased emissions.

Based on a ''clean-sheet'' design, the A220 incorporates advanced materials combining corrosion and fatigue-free composites (wing), titanium and latest aluminium-lithium alloys (fuselage) to cut weight.

Airbus is using an airBaltic A220-300on its demonstration tour. Photo / Supplied
Airbus is using an airBaltic A220-300on its demonstration tour. Photo / Supplied

It also features a low drag nose and tailcone design, the smallest fuselage wetted
area and optimised wing aerodynamics.

The planemaker says the 50.8cm-wide aisle makes for a quicker turnaround, vertical sidewalls for more personal space and it has large and panoramic windows to let more natural light into the cabin. That was apparent during the flight with one passenger saying it would have been good to wear sunglasses.

Toilets have improved accessibility for the increased number of passengers with reduced mobility. The one at the rear of the cabin was enormous.

The aircraft flies on to New Caledonia at the weekend.