Why Did Airbus Build The A310?

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The A310 changed the game for Airbus, even more so than the foundation Airbus A300 aircraft that put Airbus on the map in the first place. Its range, popularity, and design was great for airlines and ushered in a new generation of travel for passengers. But what led to its design? Why was it better than the A300? And why was it built?

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An Air Transat A310. Photo: Konstantin Von Wedelstaedt via Wikipedia

Setting the stage for the A310

Airbus made a big splash when they first made the 300-seater Airbus A300. It was a fantastic aircraft that put other plane makers like Boeing on notice and changed the dynamic of long-haul flying forever. It would rally plane makers to move away from tri-jets and embrace the twin-jet widebody design that is common today).

During the development of the A300, Airbus originally planned a shorter version of the aircraft but decided to make the ‘stretch’ first (which would become the original A300) due to airlines demand.

Once the A300 hit the market, it became apparent that there was a smaller market for a smaller aircraft in the 200 seater range. Some airlines did not have the demand necessary for the big A300 or wanted a shorter plane with more frequency between two popular destinations (Like Paris to Frankfurt).

Already having a ‘shorter’ design of the A300 on file, Airbus decided to restart the design process and polish off the A300 shrink concept. This shortcut would not only save time and money, but it would also allow the production line of the A310 to be on the same as the A300.

Plus, the commonality would mean that pilots of the A300 would easily be able to switch to the A310 when the time came. What a great bonus (and something we would see ‘other‘ plane builders strive for over aircraft generations).

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The launch orders of the new A310

In 1978, the aviation industry recovered from its slump, and many airlines seemingly took great interest in the new A310 type. It was a perfect European counterpart to the Boeing 757 (which was also under development at the time), and it spurred plenty of orders with airlines seemingly outdoing each other day by day.

In March 1979, Swissair and Lufthansa announced that they would be launch partners with Airbus for the new ‘A310’ aircraft, ordering ten each. Air France soon followed with an order for four aircraft. Then on the 1st of April 1979, Lufthansa raised its order to 25 planes, with a further 25 options. Then only two days later, KLM signed an order for ten aircraft and ten options. Less than two months later, Air France raised its order from four to 35 aircraft. Swissair would close off the buying spree by expanding its order to include 10 options.

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A Swissair A310-300. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

The two types of A310

Airbus set out to build two types of A310 aircraft.

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  • The regional A310-100 – 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) with 200 passengers
  • The transcontinental A310-200 – 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km) with 200 passengers. This aircraft had more thrust and a bigger fuel tank.

The former was for airlines like Lufthansa that wanted to operate frequent services around Europe to significant cities, and the latter for airlines operating across Europe or over the Atlantic between two smaller cities (think Boston to Manchester). Due to the popularity of the aircraft being used for transatlantic operations, Airbus would create the A310-300 with an increased range to 5,150 nautical miles (9,540 km).

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An A310-300 in Airbus livery. Photo: Airbus

However, you might notice that since they both carry the same passengers, why not merely order the longer-range A310-200?

That is precisely what happened, and with no orders for the A310-100, Airbus quietly shunted it away and made the A310-200 the main variant available for ordering. On the 3rd of April, 1982, the A310-200 took to the skies, and the rest is history.

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The first flight of the A310-200. Photo: André Cros / City of Toulouse via Wikipedia.

The type would be prevalent until around the 1990s when, thanks to the launch of the new A320 and A330, orders slowly stopped, and Airbus withdrew the type.

The A310 filled a certain niche in the aviation market and one that has never really been filled since (the middle of the market). Its spirit lives on in the Airbus A321XLR and the Airbus A330-800neo.

What do you think of this story? Have you ever flown in an A310? Let us know in the comments.

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