The Airbus A320 vs A320neo – What’s The Difference?

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The narrowbody twinjet Airbus A320 is more than just the most popular Airbus aircraft ever made. As an airliner family, it is also rapidly approaching the title of the most sold aircraft in the world. This is an honor currently held by the Boeing 737.

Lufthansa A320neo
Lufthansa was the launch customer for the A320neo in January 2016. Photo: Getty Images

American competitor Boeing has moved 737 production on to its ill-fated 737 MAX series. The European manufacturer, however, offers two versions of the A320. These are the original ‘A320ceo,’ and the newer ‘A320neo.’ The older ‘ceo’ stands for “current engine option,” while the ‘neo’ represents the “new engine option.” But are there more differences between the types’ specifications than just their respective engines? And, if so, where else do these aircraft differ?

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Aircraft specifications

The original Airbus A320 first entered service with Air France in 1988. 28 years later, in 2016, German flag carrier Lufthansa became the launch customer for the Airbus A320neo. The specifications for the two aircraft are as follows:

Airbus A320-200 Airbus A320neo
Length 37.57 m / 123 ft 3 in 37.57 m / 123 ft 3 in
Wingspan 34.10 m / 111 ft 10 in or 35.80 m / 117 ft 5 in with sharklets 35.80 m / 117 ft 5 in
Wingarea 122.60 sq m / 1,320 sq ft 123.00 sq m / 1,324 sq ft
Height 11.76 m / 38 ft 7 in 11.76 m / 38 ft 7 in
Engines 2 2
Thrust per engine 120 kN / 27,000 lbf 121 kN / 27,120 lbf
Total thrust 240 kN / 54,000 lbf 242 kN / 54,240 lbf
MTOW 77,000 kgs / 170,000 lbs 78,000 kgs / 172,000 lbs
Range 5,700 km / 3,078 nm or 6,200 km / 3,350 nm with sharklets 6,300 km / 3,400 nm
Cruise speed Mach 0.78 (963km/h or 598mph) Mach 0.82 (1,013km/h or 629mph
Two-class capacity 140-170 passengers 150-180 passengers
Maximum capacity 190 passengers 189 passengers

How do they compare?

We can see from the above data that the two types of Airbus A320 have fairly similar specifications. This is especially the case when Airbus A320ceo aircraft are fitted with sharklets. These are a form of blended winglet that increase fuel efficiency and, subsequently, operational range. They work by minimizing “the aerodynamic drag associated with vortices that develop at the tips as the aircraft travels.”

The engines on the Airbus A320neo represent a considerable step forwards in the company’s technological development. Photo: Getty Images

However, even if by small margins, the A320neo tends to have a statistical edge over its older counterpart. The combination of its faster cruising speed, longer range, and higher two-class capacity make it a very attractive next-generation short-haul airliner.

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It also goes without saying that a major improvement is the different engines present on the A320neo. The new engine option is more fuel-efficient, giving the aircraft a greater range. It is also noticeably quieter than the older variant, both externally and in terms of what can be heard by passengers within the cabin. Speaking from personal experience as a passenger, the noise reduction is a very pleasant factor indeed.

A320 air france
Air France was the launch customer for the original A320 in 1988. Photo: Getty Images

More subtle improvements

The change in engines is perhaps the most conspicuous improvement between the A320ceo and A320neo. However, Airbus has also paid careful attention to several more subtle factors that also greatly add to the A320neo’s appeal. These apply both to the aircraft’s operators and their passengers.

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  • Wingtips – Airbus originally had small, triangular wingtips on the A320. These worked functionally but actually proved to increase drag. As a result, Airbus drew inspiration from Boeing’s blended winglet designs. This led to the development of a larger, curved wingtip called a ‘sharklet.’ This allowed Airbus to significantly increase fuel efficiency, by a factor of approximately 7%.
  • Cabin – The cabin has seen several improvements, both technologically and ergonomically. These features include better pressurization, greater luggage space, and noise reduction systems. Passengers can also enjoy LED lighting, and a modern seating design for greater comfort.
SunExpress A320 2 Resized
A 16-year-old SunExpress Airbus A320ceo at Frankfurt International Airport, Germany. This aircraft features the original triangular wingtips. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

How much do they cost?

There is only a relatively minimal price difference between the two types of Airbus A320. Indeed, from the figures below, we can see that these numerous improvements do not come at a particularly high cost to the customer. The cost of each aircraft brand new is as follows:

  • Airbus A320ceo – $100 million
  • Airbus A320neo -$110 million
British Airways Airbus A320neo
The Airbus A320 is the staple of British Airways’ short-haul fleet. The Heathrow-based flag carrier operates both variants of the aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

For just an extra 10% of the original cost, Airbus offers customers a more fuel-efficient aircraft that outperforms its predecessor in several crucial areas. So, why is it that the A320ceo is still securing orders today?

Option to retrofit original aircraft

An important factor in the A320ceo retaining its popularity is its ability for airlines to retroactively install most of the aforementioned improvements on original A320s. The one exception, in this instance, is the newer engines, which are exclusively a component of the A320neo.

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A320 easyJet
British low-cost carrier easyJet operates both variants of the Airbus A320. It already has several further examples of the neo on order. Photo: Getty Images

As such, a hybrid ‘enhanced’ version of the A320ceo can be created. This allows airlines to feature the majority of the A320neo’s technological enhancements without ordering a brand new aircraft. As such, airlines still have a compelling reason to order the A320ceo. However, according to Airbus, as of October 31st, the type only had 18 examples left on order. It is likely that, in the coming years, Airbus will be encouraging its clients to switch to the neo version. It has already taken a similar approach with its A330 program.

That, of course, isn’t to say that the A320neo is rendered obsolete by this ability to retrofit A320ceo aircraft. Far from it, especially at a time when noise pollution is becoming an increasingly debated factor in discourses surrounding commercial aviation. Indeed, earlier this year, Lufthansa elected to base a further nine A320neo aircraft in Munich. This decision was driven by a desire to reduce noise pollution in the area.

Airbus
Employees of Aérospatiale pose by the new Airbus A320 before its inaugural flight in February 1987. Photo: Getty Images

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is probably a compelling business case to be made for either variant of the A320, depending on the various wants and needs of the operator in question. The ability to retrofit certain features to A320ceo models represents a useful solution for airlines working on a tighter budget.

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Meanwhile, the A320neo represents a fantastic next-generation twinjet narrowbody airliner for those who can afford to spend a bit extra. I would imagine that both types will continue to grace the world’s skies for many years to come.

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