The narrowbody aircraft market is dominated by the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 aircraft. When flying short- or-medium haul on a single aisle aircraft, you are very likely to find yourself on one of these (if you struggle to tell the difference, take a look at our article explaining the main differences).
In this article, we take a look at the Airbus A320 family and in particular which airlines around the world are the main operators. Some airlines (such as easyjet in Europe) operate an all-Airbus fleet, but with other mixed fleet airlines, it can be harder to tell the Airbus numbers.
The A320 family – giving airlines a choice of sizes
One of the successes of the A320 has been its numerous variants within the same family, keeping similar cockpit design and fly-by-wire operating characteristics. Airlines have options of the smaller A318 and A319 aircraft, as well as the larger A321. The A320 is capable of operating long haul services, allowing many airlines to expand their routes whilst still operating the same single aisle family.
The A320s have not been without their problems though. Whilst they have not suffered the recent headline-grabbing issues faced by the Boeing 737, they have still experienced issues with engines on the A320neo and problems with the center of gravity, which has led to blocking of last seat rows for several operators.
Heading towards 10,000 delivered aircraft
In September 2019 Airbus delivered its 9,000th A320 family aircraft – to the British based airline easyJet. It’s now the largest operator of the A320, so was not an insignificant choice for this milestone event.
Competitor Boeing has edged slightly ahead, however. The 10,000th 737 variant was delivered in March 2018, to Southwest Airlines. Bear in mind when comparing figures, however, that the A320 was only launched in 1984, whereas Boeing has been selling the 737 almost twenty years longer – with the first being delivered in 1967.
The top 10 operators of the A320
There are (as of August 2019) 331 operators of the A320 family globally. This includes all variants of the family – A318, A319, A320, and A321, leased and second-hand aircraft as well as Airbus direct purchases. But which airlines have the largest fleets?
This is based on data supplied by Airbus for orders, deliveries and operators worldwide as at August 31st, 2019. The ordering here is based on aircraft in operation as at that date, rather than total aircraft delivered or ordered.
Leading the way is UK based airline easyJet. It currently operates a fleet of 329 aircraft – including 169 A320ceo and 29 A320neo aircraft, as well as 125 A319ceo aircraft. It also has a further 88 A320neo aircraft on order.
easyJet is the second largest low cost airline in Europe (after Ryanair) and currently flies to over 130 destinations from 29 hub airports, using an all-Airbus fleet.
2. China Eastern Airlines
A close second is China Eastern Airlines, with a current fleet of 316 aircraft, including 180 A320ceo, 24 A320neo and 77 A321ceo aircraft. China Eastern was the first Chinese airline to place an order with Airbus, and they form the largest part of its short-haul fleet (although it is also a heavy user of the Boeing 737, with 153 aircraft in service). China Eastern, likewise, operates a mixed long-haul fleet, with Airbus A330 and A350 aircraft as well as the Boeing 777 and 787.
3. China Southern Airlines
Guangzhou based China Southern Airlines also operates a diverse mixed Airbus and Boeing fleet, currently including 282 Airbus A320 aircraft. This includes 139 A320 aircraft and 109 A321 (unlike China Eastern, they operate the A321neo with 27 of these models).
4. US Airways / American Airlines
The largest Airbus customer in the US is US Airways, with a fleet of 263 A320 aircraft, including 121 A321s. They, of course, merged with American Airlines in 2015, and together with American’s 144 A320 aircraft makes the largest fleet globally. Airbus however still reports US Airways as a separate customer.
5. LATAM Airlines Group
Following the merger between Chile’s LAN Airlines and Brazil’s TAM Airlines in 2012, Chile based LATAM airlines is the largest airline in Latin America. This new airline operates a combined A320 fleet of 246 aircraft, including 49 A321ceo.
6. AirAsia Malaysia
Malaysian-based low-cost airline AirAsia operates an all Airbus fleet of 235 Airbus aircraft – all A320ceo and A320neo. They were, in the past, an operator of the Boeing 737 as well, but now operate all-Airbus.
They have a further 353 A321neo aircraft on order, following a switch of 253 A320neo orders to A321neo at the Paris Air Show in 2019. This larger capacity aircraft suits their routes better, and the order makes them Airbus’s largest customer for the type.
7. Delta Air Lines
Heading back to the US, Delta operates a fleet of 234 A320s, including A319, A320 and A321 aircraft. They are part of a mixed Boeing, Airbus and McDonnell Douglas short/medium haul fleet.
They are also the only airline among the top 10 to operate the A220 aircraft, with 22 A220-100 aircraft flying and 50 larger A220-300 on order. This was previously the Bombardier C Series aircraft, now built by joint venture and marketed by Airbus.
Indian low-cost airline IndiGo is the eighth largest operator of the A320. Established only in 2006, it is now India’s largest airline (by passengers and fleet). It operates a majority Airbus fleet, with 222 A320 aircraft joined by 21 ATR 72-600 aircraft.
This includes five A321neo aircraft, of which it has a further 150 on order with Airbus. This makes it, after AirAsia, one of Airbus’ largest orders! Many of these were converted from previous orders for A320 aircraft. The larger range suits the airline’s international expansion.
9. JetBlue Airways
US low-cost carrier JetBlue operates 194 Airbus aircraft, with 130 A320ceo and 63 A321ceo aircraft. They have 85 A321neo aircraft on order, and have so far taken delivery of just one of these following delays in production.
The inaugural flight took place in September 2019 from New York JFK to Fort Lauderdale – the same route as its first passenger flight in 2000! It will use the A321LR and A321XLR in this order for long haul services to London and elsewhere in Europe.
And at tenth place is Germany’s Lufthansa. It operates 190 A320 (including A319, A320 and A321) as part of its total mixed Airbus and Boeing fleet of 300 aircraft. IT was the launch customer for the A320neo in January 2016, and has a massive 426 on order.
Lufthansa is also a notable long haul Airbus customer, with the largest fleet of A340 aircraft operational (33 aircraft), as well as 15 A350 and 14 A380 aircraft.
Other A320 operators and looking forward
Other major operators of the A320 include United Airlines, Air China, British Airways, Spirit Airlines, Vueling, Wizz Air Hungary, Sichuan Airlines, Air France, Aeroflot, Air Canada and Turkish Airlines. All of these airlines operate an A320 family fleet of 100 or more.
There are plenty of changes underway though, with a number of orders in place. They may have delivered just over 9,000 A320s to date, but Airbus has a current total order book of 15,300 aircraft. This includes 2,762 orders for the A321neo. Competition, of course, remains tough with Boeing; the 737 fleet currently (according to Boeing as at end of August 2019) has total orders of 15,155 – with over 10,000 delivered.