Little Vs Large: Comparing The Airbus A320 And The A380

European manufacturer Airbus produces a wide range of jet airliners to suit a variety of purposes. Its narrowbody twinjet A320 family and widebody quadjet A380 ‘superjumbo’ represent different ends of the spectrum in terms of the size of its airliners. But how do these two visually-contrasting aircraft compare with regards to other aspects? And why has sheer size not proven a recipe for commercial success?

Emirates A380 Austrian A320 Vienna
The most striking contrast between the A320 and the A380 is their difference in size. But how else can the two types be compared? Photo: Albert Koch via Flickr

Variants of each type

According to Airbus, the A320 family is “the most successful and versatile jetliner family ever.” 9,572 examples have been delivered since the type’s commercial introduction with Air France in 1988, as of October 2020. Worldwide, “an A320 takes off or lands every 1.6 seconds.” A further 6,010 Airbus A320 family members are currently on order.

The family consists of four different-sized variants, designed to suit various levels of passenger demand across the short to medium-haul market. The variants (with their length and two-class capacity listed, respectively) are as follows:

  • A318 – 31.44m, 90-110 passengers
  • A319 – 33.84m, 110-140 passengers
  • A320 – 37.57m, 140-170 passengers
  • A321 – 44.51m, 170-210 passengers
A320, A340 & A380 Lineup Getty
While the A380 far exceeds the A320 in terms of size, the same cannot be said for its sales. Situated between the two is Airbus’s other four-engine jetliner, the A340. Photo: Getty Images

The latter three models have sub-variants themselves, namely the ‘ceo’ (current engine option) and ‘neo’ (new engine option) variants. The ‘neo’ variants offer, among other aspects, improved fuel efficiency and a quieter cabin compared to their ‘ceo’ predecessors. These next-generation variants are seen as direct competitors for the variants of Boeing’s 737 MAX series.

The double-decker Airbus A380, on the other hand, only has one variant. This is known as the A380-800, and, while visually striking, it has not shared the commercial success enjoyed by the A320 family. Since its commercial introduction with Singapore Airlines in 2007, just 243 A380s have been delivered to 15 operators worldwide. Only eight examples of the type remain on order.

British Airways Airbus A320 & A380
British Airways operates both types, although the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has seen the larger A380 fall out of favor. Photo: British Airways

How do their specifications compare?

Of the 9,572 Airbus A320 family deliveries, almost half of these have been the A320ceo variant. As such, this is the type whose specifications we will now compare with the A380. In each instance, we will list the A320ceo first.

  • Cost – $101 million vs $445.6 million
  • Length – 37.57m vs 72.72m
  • Wingspan – 35.8m (with sharklets) vs 79.75m
  • Height – 11.76m vs 24.09m
  • Fuselage width – 3.95m vs 7.14m
  • Capacity – 140-170 passengers (two-class) vs 400-550 passengers (four-class, configuration dependent)
  • Range – 6,200km / 3,350 NM (with sharklets) vs 14,800km / 8,000 NM
  • Cruise speed – Mach 0.78 / 829km/h / 515mph vs Mach 0.85 / 903km/h / 561mph
  • Maximum takeoff weight – 78 tonnes vs. 575 tonnes
British Airways A320 Singapore Airlines A380 Zurich
Moving forward, only one of these types will be a part of the long-term plans for Airbus. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Looking to the future

Comparing the specifications of the A320 and the A380 provides a fascinating insight into the various ways in which these aircraft bear striking contrasts. However, in terms of the future of Airbus, perhaps the most important of these is the cost.

Coming in at a staggering $445.6 million, airlines need to fill the A380 for it to represent a worthwhile investment. However, the high-capacity, point-to-point network model for which Airbus designed it simply does not exist anymore.

A320 air france
Air France launched the A320 commercially in 1988. Earlier this year, it also became the first operator to fully retire its A380 fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Even before the coronavirus crisis struck the aviation industry, the type was almost obsolete, barely more than a decade after its introduction. Airbus officially cancelled further production of the A380 in February 2019. COVID-19 proved the final nail in the coffin for several operators, with Air France being the first to completely retire its A380 fleet back in May 2020.

The future for the A320 family, however, is much brighter. Of its aforementioned 6,010 outstanding orders, the majority of these are the next-generation ‘neo’ variants. This represents a significant commitment to the future of short to medium-haul travel by Airbus. After 32 years in the skies, the A320 family looks set to continue to grace them for many more years to come.