Left with no options before a decision by Airbus to launch the A320neo, Virgin America seriously examined Bombardier's CSeries before becoming the A320neo launch customer.

Virgin America chief executive David Cush says the carrier had to examine the CSeries "when it was the only aircraft out there", and says the carrier held "serious exploratory discussions" with Bombardier about it.

Cush explains that Virgin America told Airbus that it is a committed customer, but with the carbon and fuel savings offered by the Pratt & Whitney 1000G-powered CSeries, "we had to take a look at it".

In its specifications for the geared turbofan, P&W claims a 16% improvement in fuel consumption at the engine level and 20-25% improvement on next-generation aircraft such as the CSeries.

Virgin America A320neo
 © Airbus

It was only when discussions over Virgin America's memorandum of understanding with Airbus - unveiled at last year's Farnborough air show - moved into their final phase, says Cush, that Virgin America expressed an interest in becoming the launch customer for the A320neo.

However, "once Airbus made the decision [to re-engine] we never looked back", says Cush. Virgin America plans to take delivery of 30 current-generation A320s from 2013 to 2016, followed by 30 A320neos for first delivery in early 2016.

Virgin America aims to decide on an engine type for all 60 aircraft in around four to five months, says Cush, who adds that Airbus is interested in a "line of sight" of the engine selected by the first A320neo customers.

Cush believes Virgin America has more leverage in negotiating an engine order for 60 aircraft versus 30. He says that while Virgin America is a CFM International customer with its current A320 fleet, "the Pratt engine seems a little further along", as the GTF will log some years of service before Virgin America takes delivery of its first A320neo in 2016. But he also highlights the strong support GE, a joint venture partner with Snecma in CFM, has provided to Virgin America.

The A320neo's extra 500nm (925km) of range not only allows Virgin America to serve Boston-San Francisco with a full payload year-round and the US West Coast to Hawaii, but also has the thrust and take-off performance to operate flights from the currently perimeter-restricted airports of New York LaGuardia and Washington National.

While no plans exist to lift the restrictions, Cush says the A320neo would allow Virgin America to operate nonstop from the airports if the restrictions are lifted.

The other big sell for Virgin America, explains Cush, is the aircraft's commonality with current A320 models. He touts 95% airframe commonality and a mere 3h computer training course for pilots to complete before operating the aircraft. At the same time Virgin America gains a 15% fuel reduction improvement, "without sacrificing a single fleet type".

Source: Flight International