The A310 is one of the smallest widebody airliners and the second aircraft type developed and built by the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Industrie. The two-engine aircraft seats around 250 passengers and is intended for short and medium-range flights. Essentially it is a shortened version of the earlier Airbus A300.
After a difficult start with the A300 in terms of sales in the early 1970s, Airbus began to win more orders after the major US carrier Eastern Airlines closed a big contract for a total of more than thirty aircraft. During the late 1970s the airlines were recovering from difficult years and more interested to invest in fleet renewal. Airbus Industrie looked for expanding its product range and from a long list of possible developments of the basic A300-design, it chose the A300B10, later renamed 'A310', a shortened version of the A300, but with a smaller wing and a lot of new technology, especially in the cockpit.
Airbus Industrie launched the A310 in 1978 and the new airliner performed its maiden flight on 3 April 1982. A year later, after finishing a smooth test programme, Lufthansa and Swissair, active supporters of the project, introduced the type into service. Other early users were KLM, Air France, Nigeria Airways, Kuwait Airways, Sabena, Martinair and Air Afrique.
The A310 uses the same fuselage cross section as the A300, but the aircraft is a little over 6 m (20 ft) shorter than that of the A300B4. The empennage was redesigned to make it more efficient. Later the redesign was also applied to the A300-600 fuselage. The A310 has a new wing. The A300's wing was of an excellent design and at first Airbus Industrie wanted to use it on the A310 as well. But airlines considered it too big for the A310, a new wing promised to be much more efficient for Airbus's second airliner. Structurally the wing is similar to that of the A300, but aerodynamically it is a new design. It has less span, a smaller area and a higher aspect ratio. The tailplane was also made smaller. Furthermore Airbus revised the main landing gear and designed new engine pylons. Later aircraft featured small wingtip fences.
A major innovation was the introduction of a digital two-crew flight deck. Flight information was presented to the pilots on CRT displays instead of traditional instruments. The disappearance of the flight engineer from the cockpit, however, resulted in discussions about safety. According to the adversaries such a big aircraft couldn't be safe with only two pilots in the cockpit. The discussion resulted in conflicts between airline management and cockpit personnel. In the end the two-crew concept was widely accepted, but as result of the conflict a small number of A310s flew a three-man crew for some time and KLM had to keep its newly delivered two-crew cockpit A310s on the ground for several months.
The A310 competed head-on with the Boeing 767. The main difference between the two aircraft is the fuselage width. The A310 has the same diameter as the A300, which is wider than that of the 767. The A310 offers eight-a-breast seating (2-4-2) in economy class, the passengers in the narrower 767 sit seven-a-breast (2-3-2). The wider A310 fuselage can accommodate standard LD3 containers in its belly in a more efficient way than the 767 can. These containers are of the same type as used in the DC-10, 747 and TriStar. Some of the early A310 customers for which cargo was important, chose the Airbus aircraft because of the better LD3 accommodation. For US airlines freight capacity was of less importance and most US majors chose the 767. The only big US A310 customer was Pan Am. Its A310s later became part of the fleet of Delta Air Lines after it took over Pan Am's European network.
The first version appearing on the drawing boards was the A310-100, a short-range aircraft which did't evoke any airline interest, so that is was never built. The A310-200, which offered more range, became the standard version. It is fitted with General Electric CF6 or Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines. A proposed Rolls-Royce version wasn't built. Airbus produced one A310-200C (Convertible) with a large upper deck cargo door and strengthened cabin floor for the Dutch charter airline Martinair.
The A310-300 has the same overall dimensions as the -200, but it is a heavier aircraft and it offers extra fuel capacity and sufficient range for transatlantic flights. To find space for additional fuel, the tailplane interior is used as a kerosene tank. The A310 was the first airliner to have this feature. An advanced fuel transfer system makes it possible to change the centre of gravity position of the aircraft during flight to decrease drag.
Final assembly took place on the combined A300/A310 production line in Toulouse. Airbus delivered a total of 255 A310s. The final aircraft was finished in 1998. A five aircraft order by Iraqi Airways was never performed. A number of passenger aircraft has been converted to A310-200F freighters, primarily on behalf of Federal Express (FedEx), and some aircraft have been converted for the aerial tanker and transport role and are designated 'A310MRTT' (Multi Role Tanker Transport).
Early in 2015 around seventy A310s are still in airline service.
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