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November 2011
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Plane Talking

‘Sharklets’ Add Efficiency Teeth to Airbus A320

In line with Airbus’ development plans for their self designed wing fences, now known as ‘sharklets’, an A320 rolled out of the workshop in Toulouse on 21 November, with the new design in place at the tips of the wings ready for flight testing before going into production on the A319, A320 and A321 at the end of 2012.

These new tips are tall at around 2.5 metres, and the benefits of their towering presence are enormous. According to Airbus, fuel efficiency is expected to increase by at least 1%, range is therefore set to increase, engine service costs will decrease due to the minimized required thrust for take-off, and there will be greater ease in climbing to optimum cruising altitude.

It seems bizarre that planting a couple of 2.5 metre ‘sharklets’ onto the tips of the wings can have such drastic and positive benefits to the plane, but the physics behind it all is relatively simple. As the aircraft races through the air, spiral shaped vortices form at the wing tips creating drag. These ‘sharklets’ stop the spirals from forming reducing drag. Simple.

Air New Zealand will be the launch customer for the ‘sharklets’ in 2013 when 14 A320s will be delivered. They will be followed by Finnair that has ordered a number of A321s. Both airlines believe the ‘sharklets’ will improve fuel efficiency between 3.5% and 4% saving around 700 tonnes of CO2 per aircraft per year.