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40 Years of Iberia and Airbus

In 1981 the first of four Airbus A300 aircraft arrived in Madrid for service with Spain’s national airline Iberia, commencing a forty year love affair between airline and manufacturer that continues today with orders for the Airbus A350, A320neo and A321XLR.

The A-300 arrived at Iberia to replace the DC-8-63 on high density European routes and flights to the Canary Islands (the Douglas type itself displaced from longer routes by the Boeing 747 and Douglas DC-10). An order for four was signed on December 28th, 1978, later expanded to six. The first four aircraft arrived in 1981 and were named ‘Doñana’ (EC-DLE), ‘El Teide’ (EC[1]DLF), ‘Tablas de Daimiel’ (EC-DLG) and ‘Aigües Tortes’ (EC-DLH). In February 1982 these were followed by ‘Islas Cíes’ (EC-DNI) and ‘Ordesa’ (EC-EC-DNR). Powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT9D-59A engines, Iberia’s A300s had a range of 4,200kms and carried a maximum of 255 passengers.

On May 11th, 1988, Iberia and Airbus signed a contract for fifteen A320-200s, took options on seven more and the carrier became one of the A340 launch customers. With the narrowbodies replacing the airline’s long-serving Douglas DC-9s on European routes, on February 29th, 1996 the first A340-300 ‘, named ‘Concha Espina’, arrived to replace the DC-10 on long-haul flights. All the aircraft were named after illustrious Spanish women, examples being ‘Rosalia de Castro’, ‘Teresa de Avila’ and ‘Agustina de Aragon’. The last of these aircraft arrived in 2003.

The first A340-300 flight was to Gran Canaria and the second to New York. With their CFM56-5 engines, Iberia's A340-300s incorporated a spacious configuration of 249 seats; five in First Class, forty-two Business Class and 202 in Economy. On January 4th 1998, one of the fleet, named ‘Emilia Pardo Bazán’, flew non-stop from Madrid to Santiago de Chile, covering a distance of 10,700 km in 13 hours and 30 minutes.

The first A340-600 of Iberia, christened ‘Gaudí’, arrived in June 2003, the type replacing the Boeing 747. Iberia eventually had some twenty aircraft of this type and over the course of its service with the company, the aircraft became the workhorse of long-haul routes, and saw the retrofitting of them with new passenger cabins and in-flight entertainment systems.

In 2013 Iberia received its first three A330-300s, named ‘Tikal’, ‘Costa Rica’ and ‘Panama’. Capable of performing transatlantic routes to the United States, the aircraft were equipped with an advanced entertainment system: a 15.4-inch touch screen (almost 50% more than the previous one) in Business Class and a 9-inch touch screen in Economy. For the first time, Wi-Fi is offered to clients to connect to the internet through their mobile devices and GSM connectivity for sending and receiving SMS messages and personal data.

On December 29th, 2015, the first A330-200 arrived. Christened ‘Oaxaca’ Iberia was the first airline to receive this version. The A330-200 is an improved version of the aircraft and can carry nineteen passengers in Business Class and 269 in Economy. The Airbus A330-200 is a fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft, providing both cost efficiencies and environmental benefits. With a range of up to 11,000 kilometres, it can fly the company's longest routes, such as Madrid to Buenos Aires or Montevideo.

The COVID-19 pandemic has required airlines to become even more efficient, including accelerating projects like Iberia's anticipating the retirement of its A340-600 fleet. As a result, the carrier now operates a long-haul fleet of A-330 and A-350 aircraft, both new-generation types, which are highly technologically advanced and more sustainable. Flight IB6454 from Quito to Madrid on August 2nd, 2020 ended 24 years of operations in Iberia fleet, carrying 296 passengers and 5,310 kg of cargo.

In tribute to the airline industry, Iberia's first two A320neo aircraft, arriving in 2018 were named ‘Patrulla Aguila’ and ‘Getafe, Cuna de la Aviacion Española’. Following this same aviation theme, several further deliveries are named after female aviators such as Amelia Earhart, the first to fly solo across the Atlantic and whose example also served to pay a well-deserved tribute to all Iberia female employees. The acronym ‘neo’ stands for ‘new engine option’, the newer power plants making the aircraft more environmental friendly, emitting 5,000 tons less CO2 per year and 50% less NOx. Equipped with Leap-1A CFM engines, it is also 50% quieter.

The Airbus A350-900 is a new generation aircraft with a focus on sustainability. Thanks to the use of new materials such as carbon and glass fibres, titanium and an aluminium alloy, as well as a reduction in the amount of paint applied, the aircraft's weight has been reduced and, therefore, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 25%. In addition, its improved aerodynamics, cabin insulation and the addition of Rolls Royce Trent XWB-84 engines make the A350-900 the quietest aircraft on the market. The type was also delivered by Airbus with a Performance Improvement Package (PIP) that represents a reduction in fuel consumption of around 25% compared to previous deliveries of the same model.

The International Airlines Group (IAG – Iberia’s parent company) has placed an order for eight Airbus A321XLR aircraft for Iberia and six for Aer Lingus, plus fourteen options. Both airlines are among the launch customers for these long-range narrow-body aircraft with first deliveries scheduled for 2023. The A321XLR will be the first narrow body aircraft that will enable flights from Europe to the U.S.A east coast and Canada. For Iberia, this is a new type of aircraft that will allow it to expand and operate new transatlantic destinations and increase frequencies in key markets. In addition, these aircraft will also provide further cost efficiencies and environmental benefits.

Airbus Only

Since 2009, Iberia has flown only Airbus models, which gives the airline greater flexibility and cost-efficiency.

Between 2010 and 2019 Iberia cut CO2 emissions per passenger by 15%. Today it uses Airbus’ latest aircraft, the A350 and the A320neo, for nearly half its flights. The 40-year-long alliance between Iberia and Airbus has also contributed to the development of the aviation industry in Spain.

On March 18, 1981, Iberia Captain Joaquin Reixa landed an Airbus A300 in Madrid. The aircraft, christened ‘Doñana’, was Iberia’s first Airbus, and it began a story that has lasted 40 years.

Because of their large capacity for both passengers and freight the Spanish airline’s first Airbus A300s were used chiefly on routes to the Canary Islands. They were followed by the Airbus A320s, used for short- and medium-haul flights in the 1990s. The decade also saw the entry into service of long-haul Airbus A340-300s and of the A340-600s, which joined the Iberia fleet starting in 1996.

The arrival of the Airbus A330 in 2013 coincided with Iberia’s transformation. New Business and Economy cabins and the uses of twin-engine aircraft on long-haul flights brought a great leap forward in efficiency. The incorporation of the technologically advanced Airbus A350s and A320neos represented another major stride for the airline. The new aircraft are quieter, cleaner, and more comfortable for passengers.

More Sustainable Flights

Iberia is committed to reaching a zero net emissions target by 2050, and has begun the process with the incorporation of more efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A320neo and A350, used on short/medium and long-haul flights, respectively, and which are between 15% and 25% more fuel efficient than earlier aircraft of similar capacity. The use of more efficient aircraft along with other measures to reduce fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, helped Iberia achieve a 15% reduction of emissions per passenger between 2010 and 2019. It aims to bring this down by another 5% by 2025.

Driving the Aviation Industry in Spain

The 40-year relationship between Iberia and Airbus has also contributed to the development of the Spanish aviation industry, since the two companies have also cooperated in numerous areas including aircraft maintenance, and are now working together, with EU funding, to drive the post-pandemic recovery of the aviation business in Spain.

According to Spain’s Association of Defence, Security, and Aerospace Technology (TEDAE), in 2019 the aviation industry accounted for 45,000 skilled jobs and for sales amounting to 10,523 million euros, or 6% of Spain’s total GDP. Of these sales, civilian aviation accounted for 54% and military for 46%. The fact that 76% of sales were exports attests to the great competitiveness of Spain’s aviation industry.

All images courtesy of Iberia

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