Airbus A320 History – How Airbus successfully filled the short haul airliner market

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A320 History

Jetstar Airbus A320 with Sharklets

A Jetstar A320 sporting Sharklets climbs into the Sydney dawn sky.

In the late 1960s, the manufacture of jet airliners was dominated by the U.S.A.. Boeing and Douglas were producing the bulk of the world’s premium airliners. When Airbus designed their launch aircraft the A300, they were already planning a range of different aircraft types with which to challenge this duopoly.

Nine derivatives were identified designated A300B1 through B9. In 1973 a 10th A300B10 was added to the list. This later was re-designated the A310 which was a smaller longer range aircraft than the A300.

Around this time, European aircraft makers were looking at replacements for the ageing BAC111 (one-eleven), Boeing 737-200 and DC9.

In June of 1977, the Joint European Transport (JET) program was initiated which was separate from the Airbus international partnership but involved the same entities as Airbus. The program worked on designs for the 130 to 188 seat market powered by CFM56 engines with a target cruise speed of Mach .84.

This was faster than the current 737 offering at the time.

This was faster than the current 737 offering at the time. In 1980 the project was passed to Airbus and augmented their studies into a single-aisle passenger jet offering. The three variants of the single-aisle design were named SA(single Aisle)1, SA2, and SA3. These would later be re-designated the A319, A320 and A321.

In February 1981 the project settled on the SA2 which had by now been re-designated the A320. The A320 blueprint described a short range model with fuel tanks in the wings only. The Airbus A320 range was 3,440Km (1,860 NM), but a -200 version was also offered with a wing box fuel tank as well which increased the range to 5,280KM (2,850NM). Airbus worked together with Delta Airlines to finalise the design of the A320 variant which settled on a 150 seat capacity. As a point of difference with the Boeing 707 727, Airbus opted for a wider cabin. They reasoned that the extra weight incurred would be offset by more popularity with passengers. They also decided upon a longer thinner wing to increase lift and fuel efficiency. See our Specifications page for more details.

Perhaps the most notable feature of this new design was the revolutionary fly by wire concept. Gone was the traditional control yoke placed before the pilot. For the first time on a commercial airliner, the pilot’s main input control was a side stick. This stick fed pilot inputs into a flight control computer through electronic signals which were then translated into commands sent to control the flight surfaces. The computer not only controlled the flight surfaces but also checked that the pilot inputs did not jeopardise the aircraft by taking it outside the flight control envelope. In this way, flight safety was always maintained as well as a reduction of weight. This kind of control system had already been proven in fighter jets. The second leap forward was the introduction of the glass cockpit into this dynamic environment. Computer and electronic advances were being harnessed to change the way pilots interacted with the aircraft. Computer screens now replaced many of the analogue instruments that pilots depended on.


The Airbus A320 family of airliners.

Airbus A320 History Timeline

Date Event
October 1983 British Caledonian is the first to place a firm order for seven aircraft.
01 March 1984 After a three year wait, the UK government and British Aerospace (BAe) reach a funding agreement which has been holding up the whole project.
02 March 1984 The A320 project begins. With ninety six aircraft orders from five customers, Air France is the launch customer with orders for:
16 x A320-100
34 x A320-200
November 1984 Cyprus Airways was the first to order the variant with the slightly more powerful IAE V2500 engines which was produced by International Aero Engines comprised of : Rolls Royce, Pratt and Whitney, Japanese Aero Engines Corporation, Fiat and MTU Aero Engines.
October 1986 Northwest Airlines places the largest order thus far for 100 aircraft.
14 February 1987 The first A320 leaves the factory amid fanfare and celebrations.
22 February 1987 The first flight of the A320 which lasted three hours and twenty-three minutes began the rigorous flight certification program of 1,200 flying hours over 530 flights.
26 February 1988 Certification was received from the European Joint Aviation Authorities.
26 March 1988 Inaugural customer Air France receives their first Airbus A320.
26 June 1988 Air France A320-111 registration F-GFKC crashes into trees while doing a low-level fly past along the Mulhouse-Habshiem Airport main runway.
24 November 1988 The A321 or A320 stretch is launched with orders for 183 aircraft. There were few changes from the A320 design other than the fuselage stretch and some minor wing modifications. The A321 would also be assembled in Hamburg, Germany instead of Toulouse, France.
22 May 1992 Airbus first offered the shrunken A319. This version was 7 frames shorter than the original design or 3.73 meters.
11 March 1993 The A321, registration F-WWIA, made its maiden flight with IAE V2500 engines. Lufthansa ordered twenty of this variant.
May 1993 The second A321 prototype flew with CFM56-5B engines. Alitalia ordered forty of this option.
27 January 1994 Lufthansa receives the first of their A321s with IAE V2500 engines.
22 March 1994 Alitalia receives the first of their A321s with CFM56-5B engines.
25 August 1995 The A319 makes its maiden flight after rolling out of the Hamburg factory the previous day.
25 April 1996 Delivery of the first A319 to Swissair.
26 April 1999 The development of the smallest Airbus aircraft the A318 begins.
15 January 2002 The A318 makes its maiden flight in Hamburg.
23 May 2003 The CFM56 powered version receives JAA certification.
22 July 2003 The first A318 is delivered to Frontier Airlines.
17 December 2008 Airbus announced it was going to start testing an Aviation Partner designed winglet.
15 November 2009 Airbus announces the addition of Sharklets(Winglets) to A320 variants. Air New Zealand was the launch customer in early 2012.
17 January 2011 Airbus launches the A320neo with a firm order of 60 aircraft from Virgin America.
24 November 2015 The A320 NEO boasting a 15% fuel saving, gains type approval by both the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

An Airbus A320-200 of Air Asia.

If there is more you want to learn about this airliner, please visit: A320 Specs, A320 Interior, A320 Order Book and A320 Assembly.
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