Not Dead Yet: The Slow Decline of the Airbus A318 ‘Baby Bus’

Only two airlines – Air France and Romania’s TAROM – still use the A318 on a scheduled basis, with the pair operating 22 examples. The A318 was never popular due to its poor economics compared with larger alternatives. It did find its niche, although opportunities were limited.

Air France A319
Air France has very much been the largest user of the A318. Photo: Eric Salard via Flickr.

In 2021, just Air France and TAROM use the type on a scheduled airline basis. TAROM has four examples with an average age of 14.4 years, ch-aviation.com indicates. Meanwhile, Air France has 18, with its examples an average of two years older. British Airways, Avianca, and Avianca Brasil all ceased using the aircraft in the past two years.

Just 80 A318s were built. The remaining examples seat between 113 passengers with TAROM and 122 with Air France. That so few A318s were built means that the type’s share of Airbus’ total narrowbody seat capacity since 2004 totals less than 1%, compared to the A319’s 20%. The A318 is similar to the B737-600 (0.77%), also a shortened aircraft with similar problems.

Avianca Airbus A318
Avianca was an important operator of the small Airbus. Photo: Joao Carlos Medau via Flickr.

The end of the A318 is near – kind of

TAROM has put its A318s up for sale, to be replaced by the B737 MAX 8, while Air France will replace its aircraft with A220-300s, the first of which is due to be delivered this month. The end of the A318 in scheduled roles is in sight although it will continue for multiple other operators, especially governments and in bizjet form. Alas, Titan Airways, an aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) provider, has scrapped its sole A318, but it did once do exciting things with it.

Still, eight A318s are in the air at the time of writing, including one en route from Bucharest to Frankfurt, 903 miles away. This has a departure from Romania of 17:00, arriving in Germany at 18:40 local time. Returning, it leaves at 19:25 and arrives back at 22:50.

A318
At the time of writing, a handful of A318s are in the air, including TAROM to Frankfurt. This is the third flight for the operating aircraft (YR-ASB) so far today, following a round-trip to Paris CDG. Image: RadarBox.com.

The A318 has unattractive economics

The relative unpopularity of the A318 is largely due to its economics. The ‘baby bus’ is too heavy for its capacity, meaning higher and less attractive operating and seat-mile costs than alternative aircraft. Smaller aircraft are available if fewer seats are required. The Embraer 195, for example, has just 6% fewer seats but a 23% lower maximum takeoff weight (MTOW).

And for larger aircraft, the A319’s MTOW is 11% higher, but it has 18% more seats at maximum capacity. As such, A319’s seat-mile cost would be decently lower while enabling more revenue-generating opportunities from having more seats to sell – assuming they’re needed.

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It’s the same issue with most other family aircraft, including the A319 and A320 and the A320 and A321 (and between Boeing’s variants). It goes to the heart of aircraft economics and why the A321 has become much more popular in recent years. The smaller the aircraft the higher the seat-mile cost but the lower trip cost.

BA A318
The A318’s decent short-field performance meant it was used from various airports with <5,000-feet runways. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

But it had a niche role

The above things helped make the A318 less appealing in a normal commercial sense, but this is just one part of the story. The A318 found a niche, and not just in non-scheduled service.

The aircraft performed well on very short runways, such as at Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont (4,341 feet) and Florence (5,741 feet). It was also certified for the steep approach into London City, which also has a very short runway (4,948 feet).

BA’s now-ceased London City to New York JFK service, which stopped in Shannon outbound to refuel, operated between 2008 and 2020. The A318 was sufficiently large to enable an optimal number of business class seats (32) in an all-premium cabin. It combined good short-field and steep approach capability with the right number of seats.

The author flew the A318 on a couple of occasions to Paris CDG. What are your experiences the type? Let us know in the comments.

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