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.
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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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|
|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.”
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.