Both Boeing and Airbus have seen great success with their narrowbody aircraft. The Boeing 737 first flew in 1967 and remains well in production with the 737 MAX. Airbus came later with the A320, first flying in 1988 with Air France, and has likewise continued to improve with the A320neo family. To date, 9,930 A320 family aircraft have been delivered (with over 15,000 total orders). Boeing still leads with over 10,500 deliveries – but has had a lot longer to reach this.
The A320 family
Airbus launched the A320 family in 1987 (first flight). It was conceived earlier in the 1980s as a European alternative to the US-dominated narrowbody market. Boeing had launched the 737 in the late 1960s, and Douglas offered the DC-9. European options, including the BAC One-Eleven and the Sud Aviation Caravelle, were aging and struggling against US competition.
Airbus came together in the 1970s with several European manufacturers joining to take on US competition. Offering larger jets for European airlines worked well – and of course, Airbus won US and international clients as well.
The A320 was the first variant offered. The longer A321 followed in 1994, and the shorter A319 in 1996. The shortest A318 variant was not delivered first until 2003. These became the ‘ceo’ (current engine option) series after the launch of the improved ‘neo’ (new engine option) family in 2016.
A320ceo orders and deliveries
As of the end of June 2021, Airbus has delivered 6,318 A320ceo family aircraft. More remain on order, although the order book is getting smaller, and some of these orders will likely convert to neos.
- A318: 80 (80 orders)
- A319ceo: 1483 (1486 orders)
- A320ceo: 4752 (4770 orders)
- A321ceo: 1777 (1791 orders)
The A320ceo just misses out on being the most ordered narrowbody (the Boeing 737-800 takes this, with 4,991 orders). But it does (at least, it did as of May 2021) edge ahead in usage. Data for summer 2021 schedules showed the A320ceo as the most scheduled aircraft globally – planned for 21.3% of flights worldwide, compared to the second-place 737-800 with 19.3%.
Airbus launched the A320neo family in 2010. The first aircraft flew in 2014, and it entered service in January 2016 with Lufthansa.
The neo family maintained commonality with the original A320 aircraft but introduced several improvements. New engines ( CFM International LEAP-1A or Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines) and aerodynamic upgrades, including sharklets, gave lower operating costs and improved efficiency (offering a reduced fuel burn of up to 16% according to data from FlightGlobal). It also increased range. And iIt introduced a new, enlarged cabin design.
Again, as of the end of June 2021, Airbus has delivered the following A320neo aircraft – with plenty more on order:
- A319neo: three (73 orders)
- A320neo: 1272 (3852 orders)
- A321neo: 563 (3543 orders)
Improving the A320neo
To see the real success of the A320neo and its future potential, you need to look further at the variants. The A321neo has been further developed into the long-range A321LR and A321XLR. This is taking the series further and setting it apart from the Boeing 737.
The A321LR was launched in 2015 and added auxiliary fuel tanks to increase range. It so far has 192 orders from 18 airlines.
The A321XLR will take things even further, though. It adds an additional rear central tank and has a range of 4,700 NM (8,700 kilometers). This will open up many new route possibilities for airlines with narrowbody aircraft. So far, there are 449 orders from 19 airlines for the A321XLR (according to data from ch-aviation.com). It remains on track to enter service in 2023.
Both American Airlines and United Airlines have orders for 50 A321XLR aircraft and will be the largest operators. For American Airlines, 30 of these orders were conversions from existing A321neo orders, and 20 were new orders.
To some extent, the A321XLR will replace the Boeing 757 fleets of these airlines – a clear sign that Boeing needs to respond. Boeing did have plans for a new mid-sized aircraft (dubbed the NMA, or 797) but dropped this in 2020 – partly due to the new A321XLR offering. We have yet to see what it offers as a replacement, but until it does, Airbus has a distinct advantage with the A321neo.
Airbus has shown impressive results with the A320 family, coming close to the 737 order book in much less time. Looking forward, it seems well set with the upcoming improvements with the A321XLR. Do you think this will push it into the top position, or will Boeing respond in time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.