Airbus ACJ TwoTwenty

The airframer’s latest bizliner may be arriving just in time to attract buyers facing high jet-A prices.

Depending on your point of view, Airbus Corporate Jet’s ACJ TwoTwenty is either the Icarus jet or precisely the right airplane at the right time. Maybe it’s a bit of both. 

The ACJ TwoTwenty (aka ACJ220) is the short-fuselage business jet version of the A220-100, a next-generation, highly fuel-efficient single-aisle twinjet airliner with seating for up to 135. More than 200 are in service and there are open orders from a variety of airline customers for 500 additional aircraft. The first ACJ220 is currently being completed by Comlux in Indianapolis, Airbus’s authorized partner on the aircraft, for delivery next year. The model offers customers a 5,650-nautical-mile range with a 78-foot-long cabin divided into up to six living zones with seating for as many as 19. The finished price is around $100 million. 

Airbus acquired the A220 program, formerly known as the CSeries, from Bombardier in two big bites in 2017 and 2020 for the fire-sale price of just $591 million. Canadian airframer Bombardier—the company known for its line of Learjet, Challenger, and Global business jets—began work on the program in the late 1990s and formally launched it in 2008. Bombardier had revolutionized the commuter airline market in the early 1990s with the CRJ line of regional jets—basically stretched versions of its popular Challenger 600 business jets—and decided to set its sights higher. From the start, this prompted more than a little market skepticism and comparisons to the Greek mythological character Icarus, who plunged to his death after flying too close to the sun.

Bombardier appears to have been either brashly brilliant or deluded by terminal hubris. The ostensible goal was to compete directly with Airbus and Boeing in what for decades had been a duopoly in the single-aisle commercial market, by offering an aircraft that was lighter and more fuel-efficient. As Tom Hanks’s character said in A League of Our Own, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” 

ACJ220 cabin
The ACJ220 can carry 19 passengers in a cabin that measures 78 feet long, 6.8 feet tall, and 10.8 feet wide.

Some Hard Lessons

Bombardier was in for some hard lessons on the CSeries—about $6 billion worth. The company generated $317 million on $17 billion in revenue in 2008. The simultaneous drain from the CSeries, added to the $1.4 billion cash pyre from the aborted development of the midsize Learjet 85 bizjet, drove the company deep into the red. Between 2014 and 2019, losses amounted to $10 billion. In 2015 alone it lost $5.35 billion, prompting an emergency infusion of $1.3 billion into the company from the Quebec and federal governments. Canada’s Maclean’s magazine opined, “No company has been so adept at extracting taxpayer cash as it stumbled from one era of mismanagement to another.” 

Airbus Flies First ACJ TwoTwenty

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Airbus Flies First ACJ TwoTwenty

This private version of an airliner offers 5,650-nautical-mile range and tons of interior space.

Meanwhile, Airbus and Boeing were hanging new fuel-efficient engines on slightly modified airframes derived from their legacy A320 and 737 airliners, respectively, in development programs costing about $1 billion each, amassing thousands of orders from loyal installed customers that liked the idea of getting more fuel-efficient aircraft with minimal changes in training, operations, and maintenance. Bombardier saw interest in the CSeries wane to the point where it began offering the airplane, initially priced at $48 million, to customers like Delta Airlines for just $17 million. Boeing cried foul and filed an anti-dumping complaint with the U.S. Commerce Department, which in turn slapped a 292 percent import tariff on each aircraft in 2017. The only move left on the chessboard was for Bombardier to dodge the tariff by assembling aircraft destined for the American market in the U.S. But setting up a new aircraft production line is a hideously expensive and regulatory burdensome adventure. 

So, the airframer offered 50.01 percent of the program to Airbus for $1 in 2017. Under the deal, Bombardier pledged to fund the production of the CSeries on Airbus’s existing Mobile, Alabama production line to the tune of $350 million a year for at least two years. When it failed to put up all the cash, Airbus took Bombardier’s remaining share for $591 million. The government of Quebec still owns the remaining 19 percent and will do so until at least 2026. In February of this year, Airbus and the Quebec government agreed to invest another $1.2 billion into the program on a 75/25 percent share basis with the goal of ramping up to producing 14 aircraft per month. Airbus projects that the program will become profitable somewhere around 2025. 

ACJ220 galley.
ACJ220 amenities can include a gourmet galley and much more.

Reduced Fuel Burn

Despite the multiple managerial missteps—and resulting Harvard Business School case-study fodder—along the path of how the CSeries became the ACJ220, the airplane itself is brilliant and now perfectly timed for airlines struggling under the weight of $8-a-gallon jet fuel. Thanks in part to its lightweight aluminum-lithium fuselage skin, slippery carbon fiber composite wings, precise fly-by-wire digital flight controls, Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics, and Pratt & Whitney PW1500G geared turbofan engines, Airbus claims the ACJ220 burns 25 percent less fuel and is 25 percent cleaner and 50 percent quieter than older-generation aircraft of comparable size. 

After some initial software fixes to its combustors following a handful of in-flight shutdowns, the engines are now also highly reliable and have helped the ACJ220 establish a dispatch rate of better than 99 percent, no small feat as new aircraft are notoriously susceptible to teething pains. Overall maintenance inspection intervals are generous. 

As a business jet, the ACJ220 is destined to be a niche player and suffers from the same disability as most single-aisle airliners and commuter jets—namely, it’s slow, lumbering about at a normal cruising speed of Mach 0.82 or around 470 knots. Competitor Embraer tried tilling this ground for over a decade with its Lineage 1000, a private jet version of its E190 regional jetliner, before pulling up stakes in 2020 and abandoning the program after delivering just 28 over 11 years.

Will the ACJ220 do any better? Maybe. 

Airbus certainly has the resources to pull off this project, as well as a ready-made hole in its ACJ product line because the slightly smaller ACJ318 was effectively discontinued in 2015 after the airframer opted not to offer an updated version with more fuel-efficient engines. Fuel burn on an ACJ220 is 50 percent less than that on an ACJ318. Interior completions specialist Comlux has extensive experience with the Airbus product line and should be able to fashion and install ACJ220 amenities to meet the most demanding tastes with features including a king-sized bed, an en-suite bathroom with shower, a gourmet galley, a full office with high-speed internet, multiple lounges, and electrochromic window shades in a cabin that measures 78 feet long, 6.8 feet tall, and 10.8 feet wide. 

While the ACJ220 will not win any transoceanic races with dedicated large-cabin business jets from Bombardier, Dassault, or Gulfstream, it can comfortably operate out of 5,000-foot-long runways at maximum takeoff weight and still carry you nonstop from L.A. to London or Beijing to Melbourne. True, it may take a little longer to reach your destination but burning 25 to 50 percent less fuel in the age of pricey jet-A could be worth the wait. If the market agrees, this Airbus jet may be arriving at just the right time. 


Airbus ACJ220 at a Glance

Estimated completed price: $100 million 

Crew: 2–5 

Passengers: 8–19

Range: 5,650 nm 

Cruising speed: 470 kt

Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney PW1500G geared turbofans, 18,900 pounds of thrust each 

Avionics: Collins Pro Line Fusion 


   Length: 78 ft

   Height: 6.8 ft

   Width: 10.8 ft