Which Airlines Operate Airbus’ Baby Bus, The A318

Entering service in 2003, the smallest airline of the A320 Family is still going strong. In terms of safety, reliability and efficiency, it is a hard one to beat.

A318 on runway
The smallest of the A320 family, the Baby Bus A318 is still a popular choice. Photo: Markus Eigenheer from Genève [CC BY-SA 2.0]
The A318 ‘Baby Bus’ can carry up to 132 passengers, although according to Airbus the type is usually configured for between 90 and 110. It has a range of 3,572, is six meters shorter than the A320 and 14 tonnes lighter.

Its design enables it to take on landing approaches which are steeper than usual. The jet can approach at a 5.5 degree angle of attack compared to the conventional 3. That capability leads it to be the choice type for airlines that sell point-to-point travel between city centers.

British Airways operates an A318 on its London City to JFK route. In 2009 BA received the first of two A318s, both of which are configured to all-business seating.

The A318’s launch customer six years prior was Frontier Airlines. Frontier is an ultra-low-cost American carrier with its hub at Denver International Airport. The carrier retired its last A318 in 2013, according to Airline Reporter.

After an initial surge in orders peaking at 17 in 2007, sales of the A318 have declined steadily. Airbus reports no orders at present for the type.

Operators

Despite orders for the A318 all but drying up by 2014 it has still outdone the closest matched type: Boeing’s B737-600. The European manufacturer had received 80 orders by the end of 2017 compared to the American’s 69 orders.

B737 landing
Baby Bus outperformed Boeing’s B737-600 despite sales being low. Photo: Bastiaan from The Hague, The Netherlands [CC BY 2.0]
According to Flight Global, the following carriers were using the A318 in 2018:
  • Air France
  • Avianca
  • TAROM
  • British Airways
  • Titan

Titan Airways became the owner of a single A318 in 2015. The acquisition was part of a modernization of the carrier’s fleet led by commercial director Alastair Kiernan.

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Titan’s move from a mixture of manufactured types to an all-Airbus fleet was at the time seen as a sharp move, enabling the company to retain commonality of flight decks while reaping the rewards of the multiple capabilities of the Airbus family.

Development

The road to operations was not smooth for the A318. The aircraft’s unveiling came just two years after the Al-Qaeda attacks on American soil. Thereafter demand for new aircraft declined dramatically. A sharp drop in traffic was felt across the industry as planes were grounded and flights were axed due to a void in custom.

Only 67.5 million seats were available in September 2001. A return to pre-9-11 numbers was not seen until 2005.

A318 take-off
The Baby Bus: a troubled upbringing but the finished product still serves BA well. Photo: Magic Aviation [CC BY 2.0]
The second set back for the A318 developers was the realization that the new Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines burned far more fuel than expected. That led several early sponsors including BA to back out.

Thirdly, Airbus’s previous optimism for the type’s grand entrance was knocked still further after TWA’s order for 50 of the type was cancelled following its acquisition by American.

In the end Airbus’s plans to market the A318 as a strong alternative to Boeing’s regional jets were stymied by a technicality. Aviation authorities in the US and Europe refused to class the Baby Bus as anything less than a large aircraft. Thus landing fees and gate allocations remained the same.

Despite its troubled past there are still 41 A318s in operation, according to Airbus.

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Remy

With the Embraer E-jets and the Airbus A220 family there are simply better alternatives for airlines when it comes down to planes with around 100 seats.

Paul Spindler

I’ve flown on one of the Avianca ones, complete with first class and Wi-Fi entertainment. Nice little plane, probably worth more in parts now but I expect it has good performance given some of the routes it operates, look at the approach into Pasto on a A318. Not competitive against E190, CRJ1000 or 717 at sea level airports though.

Andy

A220 is the new 100 seat aircraft choice on offer by Airbus.

Gary

I flew on the A318 with Tarom Airlines of Romania.
From Frankfurt to Bucharest the Bucharest-Cluj Naporca- Frankfurt on the return trip.
Great little plane it is.
Like it more than there Boeing 737’s.