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What the F*&^ is a Sharklet? (Hint: It’s Good)

Winglets on airplanes are nothing new. We’ve seen them big and small on all kinds of airplanes. The most visible ones these days are the huge ones that you see on 737s, but what the heck is a sharklet? Well, that’s the Airbus-designed winglet for the A320, and here is an exclusive photo of it from Airbus.

Airbus Sharklets (or not)

Or maybe not. A sharklet is actually just a winglet with a cool name, and Airbus is going to put them on A320s, if the buyer so chooses. “But wait,” you say, “doesn’t the A320 already have winglets?” Well, sort of, but not really. Those little guys in the top photo above that go above and below the wing are technically wingtip fences. Yeah, I know. Whatever. But these new ones will look more like the big ones you see on a 737 that are blended into the wing and point up. Here’s an actual mock from Airbus of what they’ll look like.

Real Airbus Sharklets

The upshot here is that winglets are good. They reduce the wake given off by the wings and that means that the airplane is more fuel efficient – by 3.5% in fact. Hooray, environment saved, right?

Yeah, that’s a nice thing but there’s another big benefit here. Better fuel efficiency with the same sized fuel tanks means that each plane can go further on a tank of gas. In this case, it is estimated that an A320 can go another 110 miles on the same amount of gas.

That may not sound like a lot, but have you ever been on an A320 heading west and had to make an unexpected stop in Vegas? Salt Lake? JetBlue fliers know what I’m talking about. During the winter, the winds kick up and that means flights east are shorter with the wind at their back. But flights west have to go right into that wind and it can slow things down significantly to the point where they don’t have enough fuel to make it the whole way. So an extra 110 miles can really help on those long sectors.

There is one problem here. The winglets, or sharklets as they’re calling them, are only for new-build A320s. I guess there’s enough wing work required that so far they don’t have a program for retrofitting existing airplanes, but they say one is in the works. Hmm, that sucks. I’m sure some airlines want it now.

But it’s good for airlines like Air New Zealand which conveniently just announced an order for Airbus narrowbodies to replace their Boeing fleet. They’ll be getting sharklets first.

So one day, you’ll be spared that painful fuel stop on a domestic flight, and you’ll have to remember to thank those big, hulking sharklets bouncing at the end of the wing.

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