Airbus A320 , A319 and A318

Airbus А320 was considered so fashionable...

It’s unlikely that any of the hundred of thousands of passengers who board the planes that make up the Airbus A320 family on a daily basis give any thought to the machinery they are flying in. Most travellers would simply assume it is a new, contemporary aeroplane, the recent work of tireless aviation engineers. To some extent they would be right.

The А320 family is a creation of European giant – Airbus. Work on the project started long ago, at the end of the 1970s in fact, when forced by rocketing kerosene prices, aviation companies found themselves in desperate need of a more fuel-efficient model that could carry approximately 180 passengers over average distances. The European project was formally launched back in 1981. The results achieved by the European engineers 25 years ago were excellent.

А320 was the first civil aeroplane equipped with a digital fly-by-wire system.

The А320 required about 40 percent less kerosene, compared to the existing planes around at the time. This catapulted the excellent project well into the spotlight. When the prototype of the А320 undertook its first flight on 22 February 1987, some 400 orders were immediately received. A year later the first aeroplanes were delivered to companies eager to make use of them for their commercial flights. When the first planes of this type began flying international air routes 20 years ago, the А320 was considered so fashionable that it was often compared to a spaceship. For the first time in the history of aviation, all the information that a pilot would need was displayed graphically on a series of monitors.

The control of the plane was executed by a small sidestick, similar to a joystick from a computer game, in contrast with the big yokes in the older machines. It is worth noting that the А320 was the first civil aeroplane equipped with a digital fly-by-wire system. In other words, there’s no direct mechanical connection between the sidestick and the flight control surfaces of the machine. The pilot inputs commands, which are sent to an on-board computer. This computer then makes the necessary corrections and forwards signals to the flight control surfaces.

Speaking of computers, the А320 remains one of the most computerised aeroplanes to this day. The autopilot is so elaborate, that it follows a set route and speed effortlessly, controlling the plane and setting the necessary traction. Besides taking off and landing, all the crew has to do is monitor the flawless operation of the systems, correcting the itinerary if needed and communicating with the air traffic control tower.

The basic model of the А320 carries 180 passengers in one class.

The construction of А320 was so successful that the brand new А320s that are rolled out today differ little from their 20-year-old predecessors. A good example of this is the computing capacity of the on-board microprocessors – which is well behind that of contemporary cell phones, but at the same time remains so stable and secure that an upgrade cannot be justified. The basic model of the А320 carries 180 passengers in one class. It is followed by three more models. The А321 is a longer version, carrying 220 passengers in one class.

The shorter А319 carries 156 passengers in one class and boasts a longer range of flight. The smallest member of the family is the А318, often addressed as the ‘Baby Bus’ and meant to carry only 117 passengers over shorter distances. All these models are very similar in terms of construction, the differences arising from the longer or shorter fuselage.

The А320 turned out to be the ultimate bestseller. With the three factories where the planes of the А320 family are built providing a total production capacity of 40 planes per month. Decades on, the А320 will undoubtedly remain the dominating presence at airports around the world – an illustrative example of European engineering genius.