Why Do Airbus Plane Types Start With The Letter A?

In a previous article, Simple Flying went into detail about why Boeing uses the number seven so frequently in its aircraft names (it’s about more than just luck!). But readers asked us, why does every Airbus aircraft start with the letter A? And why did Airbus begin at the number 300 for its first aircraft? Let’s explore.

Airbus A318
Why do Airbus aircraft start with an A and use the number three? Photo: Getty Images

Why Airbus uses the letter A

Sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct one. The A at the front of all its aircraft numbers stands for Airbus. This answer is so basic that you might be asking why Boeing doesn’t put the letter B in front of its aircraft names, although it is used by official outlets for type ratings (e.g. B737).

But let us explore a little deeper into the Airbus naming convention. If we take a look at the name of Airbus’ A320 range, a common model number is:

  • A320-231

A = Airbus
320 = Model number (more on that below)
-200 = The two standing for the second version of the Airbus A320
31 = The engine edition of the aircraft

Airbus further complicates this listing process by its neo series. The neo aircraft, standing for New Engine Option, are versions with updated specifications and new engines. However, these modifications are not very extensive, and many of the neo versions have limited upgrades that fall-short compared to a clean-sheet design.

You might get Airbus neo names that are as long as A321-271N, were the N stands for neo.

As for those who are asking why Airbus aircraft start with a 300 number, and not 100 series (or a 700 series like Boeing), it is because Airbus decided to call the plane after how many passengers it could carry. Airbus designed the Airbus A300 to carry up to 300 passengers, but, ironically, they downsized it, as they believed no airline would need to carry so many passengers. The finished A300 ended up with less capacity.

Airbus, No Orders, February
Some aircraft have long names, like the Airbus A350-1000. Photo: Getty Images

Why did Airbus give the A380 such a high number?

Looking at Airbus’ line of commercial aircraft, you can see that there is a pattern.

  • Airbus A300 – Airbus’ first aircraft.
  • Airbus A310 – Widebody domestic aircraft. Smaller than the A300.
  • Airbus A320 – Narrowbody for domestic travel.
  • Airbus A330 – Twin engine widebody.
  • Airbus A340 – Four engine long-range Boeing 747 competitor.
  • Airbus A350 – The most modern airbus aircraft released to the market.
  • Airbus A380 – The famous double-deck aircraft.

You might realize that Airbus skipped over the A360 and A370 and went right for the A380. Airbus believed that the A380 was so big (with over 800 seats if all economy) that they should keep the other numbers like A360 for smaller aircraft it may create in the future (in the 400-500 seater range).

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Airbus, A321 Manufacture, Toulouse
Airbus might still use the A360 and A370 names one day. Photo: Getty Images

An additional reason for this was that the number eight was auspicious in Asian culture (namely Chinese), and Airbus wanted to grasp more of that market with this new aircraft (that is arguably perfect for the highly populated market).

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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