The Airbus A320 family is a series of twin-engine, single-aisle passenger jets produced from 1986-present. Different versions can typically carry from 107 to 220 passengers.
The Airbus A320 is a family of short-to-medium-to-relatively-long-range narrowbody (single-aisle) twinjets produced by airbus since 1986; until Airbus’s 2018 acquisition of the Bombardier CSeries (now the airbus-a220, which complements the smaller end of the A320 product line), the A320 family were the European consortium’s only narrowbody airliners. They are also Airbus’s best-selling airliners, with over 8,000 delivered and several thousand more on order. The A320 family competes head-to-head with the similarly-popular boeing-737 (from which it can be distinguished by its blunt, rounded nose; the 737, in contrast, still has the sharply-pointed nose that it inherited, indirectly, from the boeing-707), and various members of the family also compete against the boeing-757, the embraer-e-jet, and the remaining members of the dc-9-family; in its early years, the A320 also competed against the older bac-one-eleven, which it mostly replaced.
After the airbus-a300 (and its shorter, longer-range derivative, the airbus-a310) entered service, Airbus began to look at a narrowbody with which to tap the lucrative short-haul market then served primarily by the 737 and DC-9. Work began in June 1977, and the aircraft on the drawing boards was specifically tailored to outmatch the 737, being faster (with a cruising speed of up to mach 0.84, although the aircraft actually produced would be slower, typically cruising at mach 0.78), more fuel-efficient (it was designed from the start to use the General Electric/SNECMA CFM56 high-bypass-ratio turbofan, while the then-current 737 version, the 737-200, used the older, louder, and thirstier Pratt & Whitney JT8D low-bypass turbofan; however, by the time the A320 was ready to go, boeing had themselves released a CFM56-powered 737, the 737-300, which flew three years before the A320), lighter (making considerable use of composite-materials, as opposed to the all-metal 737), easier to fly (using a “glass cockpit” - an innovation later adopted by the 737 - which uses electronic display screens instead of ye olde mechanical gauges, and having a sidestick rather than a conventional control yoke, which Airbus believed would make the flight controls more ergonomic to use), and safer (the A320 was the world’s first fly-by-wire airliner, incorporating flight-envelope protections designed to keep the pilot from doing things like stalling the plane) than its Boeing counterpart.
Work proceeded somewhat slowly, amid disagreements on the precise role of the aircraft (which officially received the A320 designation in 1981), who would get to build it, and how it would be paid for; by the time the A320 was officially launched in March 1984, the 737-300 had already flown, while the A320 had yet to even start production of its first prototype. However, after the A320’s launch, the pace of things picked up, and A320 #1 rolled off the line on 14 February 1987, making its first flight eight days later. After a rigorous flight-testing programme, the A320 received its type certificate in February 1988, and entered service with Air France the following month.
There are seven major members of the A320 family, in two main groups…
ceo (Current Engine Option) variants
These variants use GE/SNECMA CFM56, International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500 (only available for the A319ceo through A321ceo), or (as an option on the A318) Pratt & Whitney PW6000 engines.
- The A318, which first flew in January 2002 and entered service the following year with U.S. operator Frontier Airlines, is the smallest A320 version, and the smallest airliner Airbus has ever produced (smaller even than the A220-100); it was created by shrinking the A319 (see below), itself a shrink of the baseline A320 (the A318’s resulting very short fuselage necessitated an enlarged vertical-stabilizer in order to maintain adequate stability in flight). Carrying a maximum of 132 passengers (although a more typical figure is 107), it has a maximum range of 5,700 km (3,100 nmi). Unlike the other members of the A320 family, the A318 has the ability to make an approach at a considerably steeper angle than usual if necessary, making it especially useful for service to some inner-city airports where shooting an approach at a more usual angle would entail flying through buildings. Despite this unique (for an A320) capability, the A318 proved too small to be practical for most airlines’ use, and only 80 were ever built (of which 67 remain in service), the last in 2015 (and the penultimate A318 two years before that); although Airbus still offers the A318, none have been ordered since. As a result, it is the only A320 variant not to have a neo version (although Airbus has not ruled out the possibility of an A318neo should anyone express an interest for one), and, thus, the only ceo A320 that does not need to be suffixed with the -ceo suffix for disambiguation purposes. It competes with the similarly-poorly-selling 737-600.
- The A319ceo (often simply the A319) first flew in August 1995, entering service the following year with Swissair. It is a direct shrink of the baseline A320, carrying up to 156 passengers, although 124 is more usual (and was itself later shrunk again, into the A318, as mentioned above). As the fuselage was shrunk, but the wings (and the fuel-tanks carried therein) stayed the same size, the A319ceo is the longest-range ceo A320, able to fly up to 6,950 km (3,750 nmi) nonstop. 1,476 have been delivered as of early 2019 (1,440 of them still flying), with an additional 10 on order. It competes with the 737-700 and with the DC-9-95 (alias Boeing 717).
- The A320ceo (frequently referred to as just the A320) was the first member of the family to be developed, taking to the air, as previously mentioned, in February 1987, and entering service with Air France the following year. After building the first 21 A320s, designated A320-100, Airbus tweaked the design and came up with the A320-200, adding small arrowhead-shaped wingtip fences for improved efficiency and larger fuel tanks for increased range - up to 6,100 km (3,300 nmi) in a single bound with up to 186 passengers sardined in, although the A320 usually carries closer to 150. With 4,704 delivered and 66 orders outstanding, the A320ceo accounts for more than half of the total market for the A320 family’s ceo variants. Its main competitor is the 737-800.
- The A321ceo (better known as simply the A321), which first flew in March 1993 and entered service the following year with lufthansa, is the largest of the ceo variants, carrying 236 passengers in sardine mode (or 185 if you want to give them room to breathe). A direct stretch of the baseline A320, the first 90 A321s (designated A321-100) had a correspondingly-shorter range, as their fuel tanks had not been enlarged to compensate. Airbus fixed this issue with the A321-200, introduced in 1995, which restored the range to 5,900 km (3,200 nmi), almost as far as the A320ceo, by adding auxiliary fuel tanks in the aft cargo hold (although these can be removed if an operator is willing to sacrifice range in order to carry more cargo and/or baggage), plus uprated engines and a reinforced structural frame to allow it to safely carry the extra fuel. As of January 2019, 1,718 A321ceos have been delivered, with 81 orders to go. It competes primarily with the 737-900, 757-300, and DC-9-80 and -93 (alias MD-80 and MD-90, respectively).
neo (New Engine Option) variants
These variants use either the CFM International (GE/SNECMA) LEAP engine, or else the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared-turbofan; these engines (especially the PW1000G, the largest and highest-thrust geared turbofan yet) experienced a rash of teething troubles (leading to a nickname of “No Engine Option” for the aircraft sitting on the ramp with their engines removed for maintenance), but these have mostly been worked out. They also feature a large, prominent winglet (which Airbus marketing wants you to call a sharklet) on the tip of each wing, replacing the older wingtip fences; they compete (albeit not currently) with the 737 MAX series.
- As mentioned above, there are currently no plans to build an A318neo, although Airbus remains willing to do so should it find a customer.
- The A319neo first flew at the end of March 2017, but has not yet entered service (despite having received type certification in December 2018); when it does, it should typically carry 140 passengers, or up to a maximum of 160, on legs of up to 6,950 km (3,750 nmi), the same range as the A319ceo (the range non-increase presumably being due to the typical capacity being bumped up a tad). Like what will probably (if not cancelled before then) become its primary competitor, the 737 MAX 7, the A319 has been selling almost as poorly as the A318, with only 55 orders so far.
- The A320neo was the first neo variant, making its maiden flight on 25 September 2014 and entering service (with Lufthansa) in January 2016. It carries 165 passengers in a typical configuration, although it can sardine in up to 195. Unlike the A319neo, it does have an increased range compared to its ceo variant, being able to fly up to 6,500 km (3,300 nmi) at a time. Also unlike the A319neo, the A320neos have been selling like 737s, with 549 delivered as of early 2019 and 3,605 orders still to go. It competes mainly with the 737 MAX 8 (or, at least, it will when Boeing’s aircraft stops being grounded).
- The A321neo is the largest (typical capacity 206 passengers, and able to carry up to 240 in full-on sardine mode) and longest-range (7,400 km [4,000 nmi]) A320 yet; it took to the air in February 2016, received type certification (following a lengthy delay when the prototype was in for repairs after suffering a tailstrike) in December 2016 (when powered by PW1000G engines) and March 2017 (when powered by LEAP engines), and entered service in May 2017 with Virgin America. A subvariant which gains even more range by using three auxiliary fuel tanks and carrying fewer passengers, the A321neoLR (Long Range), entered service in November 2018, and a yet-longer-range-still variant, the A321neoXLR (eXtra Long Range, eXtremely Long Range, or eXtended Long Range) is under study. 138 A321neos have been delivered so far, and 2,154 remain on order. Its main competitor (whenever it gets ungrounded) is the 737 MAX 9.
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