The Airbus A320 is a twin-engine 150-seat narrowbody jet airliner intended for short and medium-range flights. It is the best-selling Airbus model, with over 8,000 aircraft sold (January 2016).
The A320 is the third Airbus type, after the A300 and A310, and it was the first Airbus narrowbody (cabin with one aisle). Airbus Industrie launched the A320 after years of studies on several plans for 150-seat airliners by European aerospace companies aimed to replace older jets like the Boeing 727, Boeing 737-200 and Douglas DC-9. Cooperation between manufacturers was necessary and in June 1977 British Aerospace and others started the Joint European Transport (JET) study programme for a two-engine airliner seating 130 to 188 passengers. Airbus partners were included in the project as they regarded it as a joint programme apart from Airbus, but later it was brought under the Airbus umbrella. The proposed aircraft was renamed 'Single-Aisle' (SA), with three versions under study: the SA1, SA2 and SA3, respectively seating 130, 150 and 180 passengers. In February 1981, the project became designated 'A320'. This was actually the former SA2.
The launch of the A320 was postponed, however, because the participating countries UK, France and West Germany quarrelled about the location of the final assembly line, the workshares and the subsidies for the development costs. An agreement was reached on 1 March 1984. The A320 programme was officially launched the next day.
The first Airbus A320 was rolled out on 14 February 1987 and the first flight took place on 22 February 1987. On that day the A320 was already a sales success with orders for 439 aircraft. Airbus received European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) certification on 26 February 1988 and on 26 March 1988 Air France took delivery of the first production aircraft.
One of the A320's biggest innovations is its fly-by-wire flight control system (pilot commands are transmitted to the flying surfaces by means of electronic signals and not any more by mechanical systems). Pilots control the aircraft with so-called 'sidesticks', a kind of 'joysticks' instead of by a conventional control column. The computers have built-in safety limits which make it impossible for pilots to exceed certain flight parameters like maximum and minimum speeds and maximum angle of attack.
The A320 is also the first narrowbody airliner with a significant amount of composite materials used in its airframe, around 10 per cent. They are used in the tail section, fairings, rudders, flaps and more. The used materials are aramid fibre (AFRP), glass fibre (GFRP) and carbon fibre (CFRP) reinforced plastics. The A320 was launched with the CFM56-5-A1 turbofan. Later the International Aero Engines V.2500 (produced by a joint venture of four engine manufacturers, including Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney) was also offered to give airlines a choice.
Airbus chose a fuselage diameter a little wider than that of the Boeing 727 and 737: 3.7 m (12 ft 2 in) instead of the 3.45 m (11 ft 4 in) of the Boeing aircraft. This allowed installation of seats a few centimetres wider for more passenger comfort.
There are two main versions of the A320: the A320-100 and A320-200. Airbus built only 21 A320-100s, for Air Inter and British Airways. (The BA-aircraft were ordered by British Caledonian Airways before it was taken over by BA.) The A320-200 has increased fuel capacity for extra range and it has small winglets at the wingtips. The first 31 aircraft delivered to Indian Airlines had a double-bogie main landing gear for use at airfields with runways in poor condition.
- A320neo -
In December 2010, Airbus officially launched the A320neo (New Engine Option), with more fuel efficient engines: the CFM International LEAP-X or the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G (geared turbofan). Further improvements are the addition of winglets, so-called 'Sharklets' (also available as retrofit on earlier A320s), and other aerodynamic refinements. Airbus claims that the A320neo consumes 15 per cent less fuel compared with the current A320. In 2020 this will be 20 per cent less. The engines also make the aircraft much quieter.
The first A320neo rolled out of the assembly hall on 1 July 2014 and made its maiden flight on 25 September 2014. The first delivery took place on 20 January 2016 to Lufthansa. Since the announcement of the A320neo, Airbus names the older generation aircraft 'A320ceo' (=Current Engine Option). Until early 2016, more than 3,300 A320neo aircraft have been ordered. By that time orders for the complete A320neo Family (also including the A319neo and A321neo) neared 4,500.
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