The Airbus A319 is well-known for its short to medium-haul capabilities on routes that do not demand the larger A320. However, Airbus also produced examples of the type which were specially configured for long-haul operations. Known as the A319LR, these aircraft generally featured low-density, premium-heavy seating configurations. But which airlines operated these enigmatic little twinjets?
A brief history of the Airbus A319
The Airbus A319 is the second-smallest member of the European manufacturer’s A320 family. The A320 itself entered commercial service in the late 1980s, with a longer version, the A321, following in 1994. This gave the family a high-capacity option, but what about on routes where demand was lower? For such purposes, Airbus launched the A319.
Just under four meters shorter than the A320, the A319 had a correspondingly lower capacity, which meant that it was easier for airlines to fill. A typical one-class configuration would seat 134 passengers, compared to 164 on the A320.
Across two classes, an A319 would seat 124 passengers to the A320’s 150. Of course, the family has also proven popular with low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Spirit. Therefore, the maximum capacity of an A319 comes in at 156 passengers, 30 less than a similar setup on the A320.
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After taking its first flight in August 1995, the A319’s launch customer was Swissair. It entered commercial service with Switzerland’s former national airline the following year. While its numbers haven’t matched the A320, Airbus has still produced nearly 1,500 examples of the A319 to date. However, the ‘NEO’ (new engine option) variant of the A319 has not proven so popular. Of almost 7,500 orders for A320neo family members, the A319neo makes up just 78 of these.
The A319LR – launched by Qatar Airways
In addition to its standard A319-100 series aircraft, Airbus also designed a longer-range variant. It designated this with the ‘LR’ suffix, and Qatar Airways was its launch customer. This version had an impressive range of 8,300 km (4,500 NM). This gave it a notable edge over the standard A319, which had a range of 6,940 km (3,750 NM).
According to Planespotters.net, Qatar Airways would ultimately end up operating two A319LRs with low-density configurations. The resultant low payload from its smaller capacity was also a factor in the type’s longer range. It took delivery of the first of these, registered A7-CJA and named Al Hilal, in February 2003. The second, registered A7-CJB and named Al Jasra, arrived in December 2004.
Both aircraft arrived at the airline with eight business class seats and a 102-seat economy cabin. However, in 2014, Qatar Airways reconfigured the aircraft to a lower-density 40-seat setup which featured entirely business class flatbeds. It used them on flights 14 and 15 from Doha to London Heathrow and back between May 2014 and November 2015.
This was the first all-business service between London and the Persian Gulf. However, Qatar Airways announced that, after November 2015, the service would be operated by its Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner.’ Since the airline launched the Airbus A350 in 2018, this has been the chosen equipment on the route. Its Airbus A319LR aircraft have since returned to their previous 120-seat two-class configuration, as shown on SeatGuru.
Other A319LR operators
Qatar Airways was not the only airline to receive this long-range variant of the A319. Indeed, shortly after A7-CJA arrived at the carrier, PrivatAir took delivery of its first A319LR. Airbus announced this in April 2003, with further examples the following month. According to the Airbus press release, it was planning to operate them on 48-seat all-business Düsseldorf-Newark and Chicago services on behalf of German flag carrier Lufthansa.
Airbus also announced the following year that Italian carrier Eurofly had ordered an A319LR, with plans for another. It ultimately took delivery of just one, again in a 48-seat all-business configuration, which it operated between April 2006 and May 2007. The airline later merged with Meridiana, which then became Air Italy.
Perhaps the most interesting A319LR is VH-VHD. This first flew for Aero Services Executive in 2003, before being leased to Air France in 2004. However, since 2007 it has flown for Australian carrier Skytraders, operating for none other than Antarctic Air Services! Last March, we reported on one of its missions, in which it was sent to rescue someone in need of medical assistance. An unlikely story for an unlikely aircraft, whose range allows it to appear all across the globe.
Long-range ‘baby bus’ operations
Of course, the A319 is not the only member of the A320 family to have low-density examples configured for longer-haul use. Indeed, British Airways utilized the family’s smallest member, the A318, for this purpose. Beginning in 2009, it began operating exclusive Club World flights from London City to New York JFK using two of these aircraft.
BA configured these aircraft with 32 Club World flatbeds in a 2-2 layout. It highlighted the exclusive nature of the service with the numbering of the London-New York flight as BA1. Of course, this had been a flight number for BA’s supersonic London-New York flights with Concorde in previous years.
Although the westbound service required a fuel stop at Shannon, Ireland, this did also have an advantage. During the stop, passengers could undergo US border preclearance, meaning that the second leg was essentially treated as a domestic flight. As such, passengers had far less to do in the way of admin once they reached New York.
One of the two aircraft, G-EUNB, was transferred to British charter airline Titan Airways in July 2017. G-EUNA, meanwhile, became one of aviation’s many casualties of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic last year. BA withdrew it from use on March 18th, 2020, sending it for storage in Madrid two days later. The London City-New York service had been suspended the previous week. In July, BA then confirmed that the service would not be returning for good.
Have you ever flown on an Airbus A319LR? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!