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American’s new Airbus jet makes first flight into Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Sep. 16, 2013, at 12:31 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Sep. 17, 2013, at 6:28 a.m.

The first Airbus A319 passenger jet in American Airlines’ fleet landed at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport on Monday morning to a gaggle of local Airbus workers who helped design its wings.

American’s A319 001, originating from Dallas-Fort Worth International, was briefly enveloped in water as it crossed Mid-Continent’s taxiway as a pair of airport fire trucks spouted their water canons — one of which couldn’t get a high enough arc on its stream and ended up spraying the right side of the plane’s fuselage.

American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely, who was in Wichita from the airline’s Dallas headquarters, said it was American’s first revenue flight of the A319. That model and two others, including one from Boeing, will eventually replace its fleet of decades-old MD80 and Boeing 757 aircraft.

“It will fly to Bogota (Colombia) here shortly,” she said of the A319’s range from the Dallas airport.

The A319s that American will fly have seating for 128 passengers. Amenities include wireless Internet, leather seats, video screens in seat backs, and 110-volt AC outlets that can be used to charge and power cellphones and laptops.

“(The A319) provides so many more things for our customers,” Huguely said. “It’s a much more modern, enjoyable experience.”

The company’s MD80s are outfitted for wireless Internet, but none of the other amenities, she added.

The A319 should become a familiar sight at Mid-Continent. American will increasingly use the A319 on its routes, up to 15 through the middle of December, and more — lots more — beyond that date.

Airbus Americas Engineering, which employs more than 400 at its Old Town offices, was invited to bring about 50 workers to see the arrival of the airplane. The employees formed a human corridor inside the terminal to greet passengers and hand out trinkets such as pens, as they got off the A319.

John O’Leary, head of Airbus’ Wichita operations, said the Wichita office focuses on the airframe design of Airbus aircraft with a primary emphasis on wings, as well as engineering for repairs of Airbus aircraft. With the A319, O’Leary said, engineers in Wichita assisted in the design of the airplane’s “Sharklets” — Airbus’ name for wingtip devices that look like small aircraft tails, which it says helps to save fuel.

Wichita was one of five cities to which the American A319s made inaugural flights to Monday. The others were Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Cleveland.

The airplanes are also sporting a new look for American. American’s polished aluminum fuselages are being replaced with a silver mica paint, a new logo and a tail with red and blue stripes.

“The 319 is made out of composite materials,” Huguely said. “You can’t buff and shine (composites) like aircraft aluminum.”

The new paint scheme will eventually be applied to all of American’s airplanes.

The A319 orders are part of an order the airline announced in July 2011 for 460 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus – a split of Boeing 737-800s and Airbus A319s and A321s.

The driving factors in that order were to have a more modern fleet of single-aisle aircraft, along with airplanes that are more fuel efficient.

The A319s will reduce American’s fuel cost per seat by 35 percent compared with the MD80. Against the 757, the reduction in fuel cost per seat is 15 percent, according to American.

Since the original order announcement, American has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and is attempting to merge with US Airways. The merger has been challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice on antitrust concerns. A trial is set to begin later this year.

“Regardless of what happens with the merger … the bankruptcy judge OK’d our plan and our (aircraft) orders,” Huguely said. “We will have these aircraft in our fleet.”

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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