The Airbus A320 is one of the most successful aircraft ever built. Thanks to its modern avionics and a sophisticated full-glass cockpit. Incidentally, American Airlines, which is the largest airline in the United States, also is the largest operator of Airbus A320. When the largest American airline operates the highest number of European-built Airbus A320, the aircraft needs no introduction!
After World War II, American aircraft manufacturers ruled over the airline industry. American-built aircraft sold around the world in vast quantities. When Airbus formed in 1969, they wanted to bring a revolutionary aircraft that would compete with market best sellers Boeing and Douglas. During this time, Airbus built A300, which changed market dynamics. Subsequently in the 1970s, when per capita incomes were rising, new airports were opening, more passengers wanted to travel by air. Boeing which built the 737 gained momentum with airlines for short-haul routes and to carry between 130-170 passengers. Airbus decided to build something similar, but better. They called it the Airbus A320.
Airbus introduced a host of technological advancements in the A320. It is the first commercial aircraft with a digital fly-by-wire system. A fly-by-wire essentially is a link between computers that relay a pilot’s input to move control surfaces on an aircraft eliminating cables and pulleys. Boeing used hydraulically powered and mechanically controlled control surfaces such as ailerons, rudder and elevators at that time. Although there are backups in Airbus that would allow pilots to fly mechanically, the fly-by-wire system helps the aircraft remain within the protective envelope limiting extreme manoeuvres.
The most significant is when Airbus introduced flight protection envelope technology, enabling the aircraft to remain within its performance capability. It is impossible to roll an Airbus A320 upside down. The pilots can pull the side stick as much as they want, but in Normal Law (Normal Law is when protections are in place just like a regular flight without issues) the onboard computers will limit the maximum roll or pitch.
A320 is also known for its side stick, unlike the yoke which Boeing used. The side stick created more space for pilots in the cockpit, allowing them to use a sliding table to eat or work. Airbus designed the A320’s cockpit keeping in mind its future long haul jets. Cockpits of A320 and A330 are very similar. This cockpit commonality helped airlines to train their pilots quickly and save money.
Unveiling of A320
The first A320 ever built rolled out in February 1987 at Toulouse, France. After hundreds of test flights were conducted, Air France received their first Airbus A320 in March 1988. Over the next couple of years considering the demand of the airline industry, Airbus built A321, which is an elongated version of the A320. It could carry more passengers with increased maximum take-off weight and more cargo. Subsequently, Airbus unveiled A318 and A319 that would help airlines carry lesser passengers on short routes. Airbus called it the A320 family aircraft comprising A318, A319, A320 and A321. A pilot trained to fly anyone of these jets could fly other jets in the family without undergoing a length training procedure.
To help Airbus A320 look more appealing to airlines, the manufacturer in 2009 introduced “Sharklets” which are placed over wingtips reducing drag significantly. Airbus promised that airlines could save over $200,000 per year in fuel consumption and lower their carbon emissions.
The A320’s quieter cabin, comfortable seating arrangements, adequate space for overhead bin storage soon became passenger’s favourite.
Since its inception, the Airbus A320’s efficiency and quality have benefitted airlines around the globe. From the hottest airports in the Middle East to the coldest regions in Europe and North America, the Airbus A320 has flown billions of passengers. In 2019, Airbus surpassed Boeing to sell the highest number of A320s compared to the 737. As of 2018, over 15,000 A320 family aircraft including Airbus A318, A319, A320, A321 and NEO aircraft were sold.