Why American Airlines Cancelled TWA’s Airbus A318 Order

Trans World Airlines enjoyed more than seven decades of rich history, and flew from 1930 until 2001. At this stage, it was acquired by Fort Worth-based US legacy carrier American Airlines. In doing so, American also inherited TWA’s aircraft and orders. Among the latter of these was an order for 50 Airbus A318s, which American canceled.

TWA A318 order
TWA had ordered 50 A318s. Photo: Airbus

A significant order

Historically speaking, TWA demonstrated a strong preference for US aircraft designs. Indeed, when it ceased operations, all 192 of its aircraft had been developed on American soil. However, in December 1998, the New York Times reported that TWA had split its latest batch of aircraft orders between aircraft from Boeing and European manufacturer Airbus.

This $3.9 billion order ($6.34 billion today) included 50 Boeing 717s, with options for a further 50. TWA then bucked its existing trend by additionally ordering Airbus planes, including 25 A320s and options for 75 more. It also ordered 50 examples of the A318, which was in development at the time, and would not enter service until 2003.

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B717
TWA’s large 1998 order also included the Boeing 717. Photo: Getty Images.

American’s cancelation

Amid the re-emergence of financial difficulties at TWA at the turn of the century, American Airlines acquired TWA in April 2001 through its parent company at the time, AMR Corporation. This saw it inherit, among other aspects of the business, TWA’s aforementioned $3.9 billion aircraft order from 1998. However, it did not retain this commitment.

The A318 was not consistent with American’s fleet at the time. Indeed, it did not begin flying aircraft from the A320 family until 2013, when it merged with US Airways. As such, the airline elected to cancel TWA’s A318 order, which FlyerTalk reports cost Airbus $2 billion.

This inconsistency with American’s existing fleet was a key factor in it canceling TWA’s A318 order. However, we must also consider the limited nature of the aircraft itself. Airbus had hoped to market the A318 as a regional jet with reduced landing fees.

Frontier A318
Frontier launched the A318 in 2003. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons

However, being based upon the A320 airframe, safety agencies did not permit this to happen. As such, it lost what Airbus planned to be a key selling point. It eventually entered service with Frontier in 2003, with just 80 examples produced between 2001 and 2013. Earlier this month, only two carriers were using this rather niche aircraft on a scheduled basis.

A strong presence of other A320 models

While American ultimately opted to cancel the 50-aircraft A318 order that it inherited from TWA, this did not spell the end between the airline and the A320 family as a whole. Indeed, it has gone on to fly all three of the series’ larger variants. For example, according to Planespotters.net, it currently has 133 Airbus A319s, of which 125 are in active service.

American Airbus
Today, American’s smallest A320 family variant is the A319. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The mid-size A320 is less popular at American, although it still has a healthy contingent of 48 aircraft of this type in its fleet. Of these, 46 are presently in active service. Meanwhile, the most popular A320 family variant is the stretched-fuselage A321. American operates 218 of these aircraft, as well as 32 next-generation A321neos.

According to Airbus’s ‘Orders and Deliveries‘ data, American Airlines’ total orders for the A321neo amount to an impressive 120 aircraft. Looking at the existing A320 family variants in American’s fleet, it is clear that it favors the larger A321. Meanwhile, the smaller A319 is deemed sufficient for its lower-demand services. As such, it seems unlikely that the A318 would have found a cohesive place in the airline’s setup had it retained the orders.

Would you have liked to have seen the Airbus A318 in the American Airlines fleet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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