Reported from Fort Worth by: Jack Harty, Senior Correspondent Airchive.com
The “New American” is arriving along with a new aircraft almost every week. With each new delivery, American is slowly introducing a brand new onboard product that first debuted on their Boeing 777-300ERs and continues to make its way into the fleet with the delivery of their first A319 aircraft. In February, American Airlines and US Airways announced plans to merge which would help form the “New American.” However, the Department of Justice filed a notion to stop the merger on Tuesday, citing that completion would be decreased. At this time, it is not clear if a merger with US Airways will be apart of the “New American”, though many in the industry feel that the merger will happen after AA agrees to concessions such as surrendering significant slots at Washington Reagan National Airport. A minimum, the merger closing will be pushed back from 3rd to 4th quarter. Even if American and US Airways do not complete their merger, it is evident that American Airlines is going through a transformation as they build the “New American.”
Wednesday, American Airlines unveiled their first A319 in the United States to employees and press and we were invited. Since taking delivery of their first Boeing 777 in 1999, the Airbus A319 became the first completely brand new aircraft type American has taken delivery of in more than fourteen years. The first A319 was delivered to American Airlines on July 23, and it was ferried to Dallas-Fort Worth via Bangor, Maine the following day. Once the A319 arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth, engineers, onboard product personnel, the FAA, mechanics, and many others have been working hard to get the aircraft ready for its first passenger flight on September 16. Airchive will be onboard the inaugural flight between DFW and Charlotte.
American Airlines placed a large order for hundreds of narrow body aircraft in July 2012 to replace its aging fleet. The Airbus A319 was ordered to directly replace their archaic, yet iconic, McDonald Douglas Super 80 aircraft. The A321 was ordered to replace their aging Boeing 757-200 and 767-200 aircraft. The Airbus A320 was not part of the specification as the 737-800 fits this mission in the fleet. If the US/AA merger happens, American will instantly become the world’s largest operator of the Airbus A320 family.
About 26 months prior the first A319 delivery, the 24 member American Airlines’ Onboard Product Team began designing the interiors for their new aircraft. As Brady Byrnes, the Manager of Design for American Airlines’ Onboard Products, said that “[American] wanted it to be straightforward, clean, and simple. But, [American] wanted it to be sophisticated and modern at the same time.” American’s A319s boast leather seats, inflight Wi-Fi, in-seat entertainment, and universal power outlets at every seat.
There are 8 leather First Class seats manufactured by Weber in a 2-2 configuration. The entertainment system boasts 200 movies, up to 180 TV programs, more than 350 audio selections, and 15 games. Coming later this year, customers will have the ability to chat with passengers in other seats. The screen is a 12.1 inch HD-capable touchscreen. A remote is also located in the seat rest. All portions of the Thales TopSeries entertainment system are complimentary in First Class, except of course the GoGo in-flight wi-fi.
There are 24 Main Cabin Extra seats and 96 Main Cabin seats all in a 3-3 configuration. The Main Cabin Extra seats have a 34 inch pitch while the Main Cabin seats have a 30 inch pitch. Main Cabin Extra seats boast up to an extra six inches of legroom. In a press release, American says that the seat bottoms will produce an “innovative cradling motion to better distribute weight while increasing the recline angle of the seatback.” Each seat is equipped with one universal AC power outlet and a USB jack. The screens in the Main Cabin are an 8.9 inch HD-capable touchscreen. However, the entire entertainment system is not free. Customers will have the option to view complimentary content, pay-to-access packages or pay-per-view movies.
Main Cabin entertainment options:
- Complimentary content includes NBC Universal Television (the linear video programming that currently runs on the main screen), 18 American Airlines audio channels and a collection of short content videos.
- Starting at $4, customers can access packages of more than 150 network and premium television shows, 300 albums, audio books and games, and up to 200 movies on longer flights – all on-demand.
- The A319s will feature a new content library called Disney Family Room. For one price, customs can access a package of movies, television programs, music and more from Disney.
- ATG-4 Wi-Fi throughout the aircraft.
The new onboard product is standard for all Airbus A319 deliveries. As for the A321, there will be an A321 Domestic configuration and an A321 Transcontinental configuration. The A321 domestic configuration will fly domestic flights that have a high demand, and the domestic configuration will offer virtually the same onboard product as the A319. However, the A321 Transcontinental configuration will fly transcon flights with a 3 class premium product configuration. The A321Ts will have cloth seats in the Main Cabin, owing to their longer flight times. The first A321 aircraft will be delivered just before the year ends, and the inaugural flight is scheduled for January 7 from LAX-JFK. Airchive will be onboard covering this flight.
As for the other aircraft in American’s fleet, many, if not most, aircraft will not be retrofitted with the new products as they will be retired soon. The first Boeing 737-800 to feature the new onboard product will be delivered in October. It remains unclear if the existing Boeing 737-800s will be retrofitted.
A little more than 14 months before taking delivery of the first A319 aircraft, Captain Mark Maestas, American’s Airbus Fleet Captain, began to review Airbus’ flight manuals to customize them for American’s pilots. He worked with check airmen, Airbus, and the FAA to ensure that they were completely compliant with all the rules and regulations. John Lohmar, American’s Airbus Fleet Training Manager, developed an extensive program to train pilots to transition to the A319. Approximately 40 pilots are qualified to fly American’s new airbus aircraft each month. After completing training, pilots will be able to fly the A319 and A321 interchangeably. When asked how flying the MD-80 is compared to flying the A319, Captain Lohmar said, “It is like getting a 2013 vehicle to replace your 1988 vehicle.”
For flight attendants, they have the option of taking a four day training class to become certified to fly the Airbus aircraft. They need to be trained to operate the doors, the cabin computer management system, and other emergency procedures before working a flight with passengers. Flight attendant training recently began, and American has already held a few training classes for flight attendants.
American Airlines still has to complete the FAA certification process to fly passengers before flying the inaugural flight on September 16 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Charlotte. American will also begin A319 service to Cleveland, Memphis, and Wichita from Dallas-Fort Worth on September 16. American has taken delivery of 3 A319s and will have 6 by the entry-into-service date. Other markets such as Bogota, Dayton, Los Angeles and McAllen will begin later this year. With the hundred or so Fort Worth based American Airline employees attending the unveiling, it was evident that they were proud of the new onboard product. Some employees said it was “sleek” and “lovely.” Many were speechless, but everybody wanted to take their photos in front of the new Silverbird.
Stay tuned for our continuous coverage of the “New American” fleet. We will be on the inaugural Airbus A319 flight on September 16 and the inaugural A321T transcontinental flight on January 7.
About Jack Harty
Jack Harty is a Houston based correspondent for “Airways Magazine” and Airchive.com. He has had a passion for aviation for as long as he can remember, and he loves to collect anything with an airline name on it. He writes, photographs, and helps run the social media channels for “Airways Magazine,” and he writes about the latest airline industry news for Airchive.com. He has also has been a contributor to BusinessInsider.com and CNET.com which are content and promotional partners of Airchive.com. In 2012, he flew United’s inaugural Dreamliner flight as well as the “re-inaugural” flight in 2013, and he assisted with Airways’ cover story about the inaugural flight. He has covered many major aviation stories such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner battery issues as well as the American Airlines and US Airways merger. Harty never slows down. He also enjoys, photography, volunteering at a local museum in Houston, the outdoors, and planning his next adventure. Follow him on Twitter @airlinejack or email him firstname.lastname@example.org