Airbus A320: A global, short-range single-aisle workhorse

Inside an Airbus A320 plane
Inside an Airbus A320 plane

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Story highlights

  • There have been more than 11,000 orders for the Airbus A320 family
  • The plane is the single-aisle rival to Boeing's 737
  • AirAsia is the biggest commercial customer of the A320
Much has been said about the rivalry between Airbus and Boeing and the Airbus A320 features prominently in this.
The twin-engined A320 entered service in 1988, some two decades after its single-aisle rival, Boeing's 737.
There have been a total of 11,163 orders for the A320, with 6,331 deliveries to date and slightly less aircraft flying globally by over 300 operators.
The A320 family ranges from the smaller A318 (around 100 seats), to the upgraded A321 (around 185 to 220 passengers depending on the class configuration).
The short to medium-range A320 is the most popular version with a range of about 3,300 nautical miles or 6,150 kilometers. It has a wing span of 35.80 meters (with Sharklets), a length of 37.57 meters and a max payload of 16.6 tonnes, according to Airbus.
Budget carrier AirAsia is the largest commercial airline customer of the A320, with 184 orders and 157 deliveries of the A320.
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It has an additional 291 orders of the next generation A320, the A320neo (new engine option), according to Airbus data.
The A320neo is powered by twin Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fans -- a 20-year research-and-development gamble that brings Pratt & Whitney back into the arena as a major player in single-aisle airplane powerplants.
The A320neo first flew in September and is due to enter service in October 2015.
Flight QZ8501
The aircraft involved in Sunday's AirAsia Flight QZ8501 incident is an A320-200 operated by AirAsia Indonesia. A statement from Airbus said the plane was powered by CFM 56-5B engines and had accumulated around 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights.
Airbus says it will provide full assistance in the investigation into flight QZ8501.
The A320-200 can sit up to 180 passengers in a single-class configuration. The AirAsia Indonesia plane was carrying 162, including seven crew.
According to information from the Aviation Safety Network accident database, there have been 54 incidents involving the A320.
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"Aviation is safe -- it is crucial to observe the full detail on why the aircraft crashed," says Kane Ray, an analyst with the International Bureau of Aviation, a global aviation consulting group.
"In the A320 family, accidents and incidents range from fan-cowl detachment, landing gear collapse, bird strikes right through to hull-losses through pilot error. Most aircraft have teething problems and in most cases these are eradicated. Very rarely, these issues cause disasters -- largely because of a culmination of factors that lead to the event."
The worst in terms of fatalities was the 2007 crash of a TAM Linhas Aereas plane that killed all 187 on board, plus a further 12 people on the ground when it failed to stop and went off the runway during landing in Sao Paulo in wet conditions.
In 2009, in an incident known as the "Miracle on the Hudson," pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed a U.S. Airways A320 on the Hudson River in New York when the plane lost lost power in its engines after hitting a flock of geese. All on board survived.