The Airbus A320 is a short to medium range commercial passenger aircraft manufactured by Airbus. It was the first airliner with a digital fly-by-wire flight control system, where the pilot controls flight surfaces through the use of electronic signals rather than mechanically with pulleys and hydraulic systems.
After the initial success of the Airbus A300, Airbus developed a true Boeing 727 sucessor. It would be of the same size, but offering better operating economics and available in various passenger capacities. The reasons were two-fold, firstly the 727 was the most numerous civil airliner then and the A320 would be the basis of further Airbus models and developments. Airbus was also banking for expected global fleet replacement requirement for the 727 in the 1980s. The digital technology A320 then heralded a two-generation technological leap over the all analog 727 and a generation ahead of the Boeing 737.
After the initial oil price rises of the 1970s, Airbus decides to focus on research which would minimise the trip fuel costs of a typical airliner. Airbus realised that to do so it would have to reinvent the airliner. Among the number of research carried out during that period include fly-by-wire flight controls, composite primary structures, centre-of-gravity control using fuel, glass cockpit and 2-man flight deck to name a few. Some of the fruits of the research were initially used in the Airbus A310. Airbus decided to employ most of the new technology into the new A320 including for the first time in civil aviation, fully digital fly-by-wire flight control system. With all these technologies on board, the A320 achieved 50% better fuel consumption over the 727 and featured a wider cabin.
Airbus also introduced competition among suppliers for its engines (CFM International CFM56 and International Aero Engines V2500) and APU. This reduces the costs of spares as well as giving the airlines more choices. The A320 is also designed for easy maintenance with easy access for technicians and features a computerised on-board maintenance system. Its avionics systems is designed for easy upgrade without major rework. Since its entry into service, it underwent six iteration. With the exception of the very earliest A320's, most can be upgraded to the latest avionics standards, keeping it advanced even after almost 2 decades in sevice.
The advanced flight deck equipped with EFIS and sidestick controller initially surprised many early pilots used to the traditional cockpit. The behaviour of the fly-by-wire system (equipped with full flight envelope protection) was then a totally new experience for many pilots. Early crashes including the Air France A320 crash during an airshow in Habsheim, with 3 fatalities can be attributed to this. The crash was caused when the pilot attempted a low pass. Rigorous pilot training and modification of the fly-by-wire system has greatly reduced such incidents and currently the safety record for the type is very good.
Type certificate for the A320 is awarded by JAA on February 26, 1988. After entering the market in March of 1988 with Air France, the A320 family rapidly expanded: the 185-seat A321, launched in 1989; the 124-seat A319, launched in 1993; and the 107-seat A318, launched in 1999.
In service the A320 family was praised by passengers as it has wider cabin and bigger overhead stowage bins compared to other airliners of the same class. Its fly-by-wire technology also gives passengers smoother flights and as it has bigger cargo hold which features big cargo doors which enables faster loading time; all this resulted in massive orders from airlines such as Northwest, United and British Airways in the 1990's. By the first few years of the 21st century, its mature design, low maintenance and operating costs appealed the low-cost carriers. Jet Blue, for example, ordered up to 233 of the A320 family for its fleet. Other low-cost carriers carriers with significant orders include EasyJet and Air Asia.
The A320 family sold strongly since its entry into service and by the end of 2004, close to 5,000 are either ordered or in service. With its various capacities and ranges, the A320 family represents the strongest product lineup in the Airbus fleet. It has successfully fought off competitive challenges from the Boeing 737 Classics (-300/-400/-500), the Boeing 737NG (-600/-700/-800/-900), the Boeing 757, the Boeing 717, the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series and the McDonnell Douglas MD-90 series during its almost two decades in-service. The healthy orders backlog of the A320 family should keep it as Airbus top revenue earner for some foreseeable period of time.
The new-technology items introduced include:
- the first fully digital fly-by-wire flight control system in a civil airliner, hence the first with relaxed stability
- the first civil airliner to use sidesticks instead of control columns
- 2-man crew (compared to 3-man crew of the 727)
- fully featured glass cockpit rather than the hybrid versions found in A310, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767
- the first narrowbody airliner with a significant amount of the structure made from fiber composites
- centralized maintenance diagnostics systems allowing the technicians to do diagnostics of aircraft system items from the cockpit
- the first narrowbody airliner with a containerized cargo system
All these features help make the A320 family more economical airliners to operate relative to older designs.
The A320 has given rise to a family of aircraft which share a common design but are a little smaller (the A319), a lot smaller (the A318), or a little larger (the A321). Passenger capacity is between 100 to 220. They compete with the Boeing 737, 757-200, and 717. All have the same pilot type-rating.
Technically, the name "A320" only refers to the original mid-sized aircraft, but it is often informally used to indicate any of the A318/A319/A320/A321 family. All variants are ETOPS rated.
The A320 series has two variants, the A320-100 and A320-200. The A320-200 is the definitive version as very few A320-100s were produced. The A320-200 features wingtip fences and increased fuel capacity over the A320-100 for increased range: other than that differences are minimal.
Typical range with 150 passengers for the A320-200 is about 2900 nautical miles (5,400 km). It is powered by two CFMI CFM56-5 or IAE V2500 with thrust ratings between 25,500 to 27,000 pounds force (113 kN to 120 kN).
This is a shortened, minimum change version of the A320. With virtually same fuel capacity as the as A320-200, and fewer passengers, the range with 124 passengers in 2-class configuration extends to 3,900 nautical miles (7200 km), the highest in its class. The A320 and A319 are the most popular variants of the A320 family. In 2003 easyJet took delivery of A319s with smaller galleys (as easyJet does not serve meals) and 156 seats in a single class configuration. To satisfy evacuation regulations additional over-wing exits were facilitated by using the A320 centre section.
The massive easyJet order of 120 A319s plus 120 options was among the biggest aircraft sales deals in recent times. It set the precedent for other low-cost airlines to consider the A320 family rather than the traditional choice, the Boeing 737, new or secondhand.
Currently, Northwest Airlines holds the record for the shortest scheduled A319 service from Bishop International Airport in Flint, MI to Detroit's Detroit Metro Airport. A distance of around 57 miles.
This is the corporate jet version of the A319. It incorporates extra fuel tanks which are installed in the cargo compartment giving a range of 6,500 nautical miles (12,000 km). Upon resale the aircraft can be reconfigured as a standard A319 by removing its extra tanks, thus maximising its resale value. It is also known as the ACJ, or Airbus Corporate Jet.
Seating is up to 39 passengers but may be outfitted by the customers into any configuration. DaimlerChrysler and PrivatAir are among its users. The A319CJ competes with other corporate jets such as the Gulfstream V, the Boeing 737-based BBJ, and Bombardier's Global Express. It is powered by the same engine types as the A320.
This version features an all-business class layout with 48 seats, specifically tailored for exclusive business class services on intercontinental routes. The A319LR, compared to the A319CJ, has four auxiliary fuel tanks instead of six. Typical range is 4,500 nautical miles (8300 km), making it the longest range airliner in the A320 family.
This is a lengthened, minimum change version of the A320. The wing area is slightly enlarged and the undercarriage is strengthened, with higher thrust variants of both CFM56 and V2500. Some carriers have bought the A321 over the Boeing 757 as it shares type commonality with the A318, A319, and A320. Type certification was awarded in December 1993 by the JAA.
Typical range with 186 passengers for the A321-100 is about 2,300 nautical miles (4,300 km). It is powered by two CFM56-5 or IAE V2500 engines with a thrust rating of 31,000 pounds force (138 kN).
The A321-200 has extra fuel capacity bringing the range with 186 passengers up to about 3,000 nautical miles (5,500 km). The A321-200 is powered by two CFM56-5 or IAE V2500 engines with a thrust rating of about 33,000 pounds force (147 kN).
The A318, also known as the "Mini-Airbus", is the smallest member of the A320 family. During development, it was known as the "A319M3," thus indicating its history as a direct derivative of the A319. "M3" indicates "minus three fuselage frames." The aircraft is six metres shorter and 14 tonnes lighter than its predecessor. Pilots who are trained on the other A320 variants may fly the A318 with no further certification, since it features the same type rating as its sister aircraft.
The A318 has a passenger capacity of 109 in a two-class configuration. It is intended to replace early Boeing 737 and Douglas DC-9 models, though it is also a rival to the current 737-600 and 717 (essentially an updated DC-9).
The A318 is available with a variety of different maximum take-off weights (MTOW) ranging from a 59 tonne, 2,750 km (1,500 nautical mile) base model to a 68 tonne, 6,000 km (3,250 nautical mile) version. The lower MTOW enables it to operate regional routes economically whilst sacrificing range and the higher MTOW allows it to complement other members of the A320 family on marginal routes. The lighter weight of the A318 gives it an operating range 10% greater than the A320, allowing it to serve some routes that the A320 would be unable to: London-Jerusalem and Singapore-Tokyo, for instance. Its main use for airlines, however, is on short, low-density hops between medium cities.
The A318 has one major disadvantage when compared to other A320 variants: its cargo doors are too small to accommodate standard air freight containers, making it nearly useless for carrying large cargo. However, no aircraft in its class have that capability either.
During the design process, the A318 ran into several stumbling blocks. The first one was the decline in demand for new aeroplanes following the attacks of 11 September 2001. Another one was the new Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, which burned more fuel than expected: by the time CFMI had a more efficient engine ready for market, many A318 customers had already backed out, including Air China, American Airlines, and British Airways. While Airbus was hoping to market the A318 as a regional jet alternative, laws in both the U.S. and Europe have kept it in the same class as larger aircraft for calculating landing fees and the like, so regional operators have avoided it.
It is powered by two CFM56-5 or Pratt & Whitney PW6000 with thrust ranges between 21,600 to 23,800 lbf (96 to 106 kN) thrust. Launch customers Frontier Airlines, America West and Air France took deliveries in 2003, with Frontier receiving their models in July of that year. The price of an A318 ranges from $39 to $45 million, and operating costs are around $3,000 for a 500 mile flight.
Orders for the A318 have been slow lately. The Boeing 717 is no longer produced , as it is also competing head on with the Boeing 737-600. Other manufacturers, like Bombardier, and Embraer are somewhat contributing to the intense competition.
Airbus has shipped over 2,500 A320s (as of August 2005) since its introduction in 1987, with another 1,100 or so on firm order. Boeing has shipped around 5,500 737s since the 1960's with a similar number to Airbus on order. In fiercely fought market battles, both companies will tweak sales statistics; brief spurts of sales highlighted to show claimed superiority. Agressive sales tactics, including political as well as commercial incentives, are used by both companies in the quest for market share. These numerous promotions benefit airlines and make this class of airliners a good value for money proposition.
(As of September 2005 for whole A320 Family)
- Hull-loss Accidents: 11 with a total of 327 fatalities
- Other occurrences: 2 with a total of 0 fatalities
- Hijackings: 6 with a total of 1 fatality
- Seven incidents of nose gear malfunction, including JetBlue Airways Flight 292
- Crew: 2 pilots, 4 flight attendants
- Capacity: 150 passengers
- Freight: 16 300 kg (35 900 lb)
- Length: 37.57 m (123 ft 3 in)
- Wingspan: 34.09 m (111 ft 10 in)
- Height: 11.76 m (38 ft 7 in)
- Wing area: 122.6 m²
- Maximum takeoff: 73 500 kg (162 000 lb) / 77 000 kg (169 800 lb)
- Powerplant: 2 x CFM56-5 111 kN
- Powerplant: IAE V2500 120 kN
- Maximum landing: 64 500 kg (142 200 lb) / 66 000 kg (145 500 lb)
- Maximum cabin width: 3.70 m (12 ft 1 in)
- Wing sweep (25% chord): 25°
- Wheel track: 7.59 m
- Maximum ramp weight: 73 900 kg / 77 400 kg
- Maximum zero fuel weight: 61 000 kg / 62 500 kg
- Maximum fuel capacity: 23 860 L / 29 660 L
- Typical operating weight, empty: 42 400 kg
- Typical volumetric payload: 16 300 kg
- Bulk hold volume: 37.43 m³
- Maximum speed: 0.82 M (approx 870 km/h, 541 mph or 470 kt)
- Where two numbers are listed, the former is for the first powerplant option and the latter is for the second powerplant option.