Few airlines have a fleet of over 800 aircraft. American Airlines is one of those, with its fleet touching close to 900 planes. The airline, which is known as a major Boeing operator with over 300 Boeing 737 Next Generation planes in its fleet and plans to take a total of 100 MAX jets, for now, the carrier’s narrowbody fleet is also complemented by over 400 Airbus A320ceo and A321neo jets. So, how did American Airlines come to be the world’s largest Airbus A320 family operator? Simple Flying takes a look.
The US Airways and American Airlines fleets
Before merging with US Airways, American Airlines was a Boeing-heavy airline. Leading up to the merger, American Airlines had a large fleet of Boeing 737-800s, 757-200s, 767-200ERs, 767-300ERs, 777-200ERs, and McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, for a total of over 600 aircraft.
US Airways had a fleet of 340 aircraft. This included Airbus A330-300s, A330-200s, A321s, A320s, A319s, Boeing 767-200ERs, 757-200s, 737-400s, 737-300s, and Embraer E190s.
The common types between the two airlines were the Boeing 757s and 767-200ERs. However, the 767-200ERs would exit the combined fleet by 2015, leaving the airline with a younger and more streamlined fleet.
The combined American-US Airways fleet
Right after the merger, at the end of 2013, the combined airlines had a total fleet of 970 aircraft. This included:
- 108 Airbus A319s
- 70 Airbus A320s
- 96 Airbus A321s
- 12 Airbus A330-200s
- Nine Airbus A330-300s
- 14 Boeing 737-400s
- 226 Boeing 737-800s
- 117 Boeing 757-200s
- 20 Boeing 767-200ERs
- 58 Boeing 767-300ERs
- 47 Boeing 777-200ERs
- 10 Boeing 777-300ERs
- 20 Embraer E190s
- 163 McDonnell Douglas MD-80s
The airline also had 140 Airbus A320 family aircraft on order, 130 A320neo family jets, three A330-200s, and 22 A350s, though American Airlines would later cancel those Airbus A350 orders.
Expanding the Airbus fleet
American Airlines was a fan of the narrowbody Airbus fleet. As of December 31st, 2019, American Airlines had the following narrowbody Airbus planes in its fleet:
- 132 Airbus A319s
- 48 Airbus A320s
- 218 Airbus A321s
- 12 Airbus A321neos
The airline did retire some Airbus A320s, as those were some of the older planes in American’s fleet, and American has been aggressively pursuing fleet retirements and modernization in the aftermath of the merger. But, Airbus planes still make up a significant part of American’s fleet.
The airline has continued to take on new Airbus planes. According to data from Planespotters.net, American now has 133 Airbus A319s, 45 Airbus A320s, 218 Airbus A321s, and 28 Airbus A321neos. The grand total of Airbus A320ceo and A320neo family aircraft in American’s fleet comes out to 424 jets.
While there will continue to be some Airbus A320 retirements, American does still have orders for Airbus A321neo jets, including the Airbus A321XLR, which will replace some of American’s former Boeing 757 routes.
Putting the story together
American Airlines, heading into the merger with US Airways, did not have any active Airbus aircraft in its fleet. Meanwhile, US Airways had a predominantly Airbus fleet and moved to retire its older Boeing 737-300s and -400s (which were both gone by 2015).
With US Airways CEO Doug Parker, moving over to American Airlines after the merger, he brought some of his team and an interest in Airbus aircraft.
While American Airlines has retired its Airbus widebodies and dropped its order for the Airbus A350, American Airlines has maintained a robust fleet of Airbus narrowbodies and plans to keep it. The A319s are the smallest non-A321T aircraft in American’s fleet by capacity, making it fantastic for many American routes with less demand.
American Airlines came to be the largest operator of Airbus A320 family aircraft after merging with US Airways. Inheriting a large order book and even expanding that after the merger, the airline loves its planes, and is especially a fan of the A321neo fleet, and is eagerly awaiting the first of its 50 Airbus A321XLRs, which are due at the airline from 2023 and beyond.
In 2011, American Airlines placed an order for 260 Airbus aircraft. This included Airbus A319s, A320s, and A321s– including 130 A321neos. American now only has the A321neo family jets on order. 260 aircraft would not have made American the largest Airbus A320 family operator in the world, but the merger with US Airways definitely helped expand that fleet.
Leading into the order, American Airlines was looking ahead to exit bankruptcy protection, and there were even some rumors of a merger with another US airline.
At the time, carriers were coming out of the financial crisis that rocked the industry and sent American to bankruptcy reorganization. Some possible options appeared to be Delta Air Lines and US Airways, which were both looking at the airline in 2012, according to a report in CNN. Delta had already come out of a merger with Northwest Airlines, but it was US Airways that had the most to gain by a merger with American. United had already outlined a merger with Continental Airlines.
American’s order definitely made the airline a more attractive option for a merger. As nearly every airline merger can attest, fleet inefficiencies can be expensive to rectify and can have lasting impacts on operations. For example, United and Delta both came out of their respective mergers with Continental and Northwest with a massive and inefficient fleet that, even now, the airlines are working to streamline.
American Airlines itself also saw the inefficiencies of a merger play out. The small Airbus A330 fleet only finally exited this year. And, with two different Airbus A321 configurations (one legacy US Airways and one legacy American Airlines layout), the airline is working to harmonize the interior configurations with a tighter onboard cabin.
With Airbus aircraft on order, American definitely got a good deal on the jets but was also setting itself up for a decent shot at landing a great merger partner – particularly with US Airways, which did come to fruition.
An evolving industry
While the world will never know if American, without the US Airways merger, would have become the world’s largest operator of the Airbus A320 family, the amount of credit those few hundred jets from US Airways deserve is important to recognize.
For now, American Airlines will retain this distinction. However, as Indian carrier IndiGo expands its massive fleet of Airbus A320neo family jets, that airline is expected to become the largest Airbus A320 family operator in the world.
Are you a fan of American’s Airbus jets? Do you have memories of flying US Airways? Let us know in the comments!