The Fall Of The Airbus A318 Baby Bus

Only two airlines currently use the A318 on a scheduled basis. The aircraft was never popular, largely due to its poor economics compared with the alternatives. Still, it did find a niche, although opportunities were very limited. With nine scheduled users in the past decade, the aircraft found a home in Latin America, but Europe was the leading region.

Air France A318
Replace the first ‘G’ and with ‘H’ and you have G-HUGE, which the A318 isn’t. Still, Air France is very firmly the largest operator of the aircraft. Photo: Air France-KLM.

The A318 has never been popular aircraft, with only 80 built and holding no more than a 0.83% share of Airbus’ total narrowbody seat capacity in the past decade. This year, just two scheduled airlines – Air France and TAROM – are currently using the aircraft, although TAROM has now put the aircraft up for sale. Titan Airways is an aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) provider, and has done exciting things with its A318.

At the time of writing, eight A318s are in the air, including one en route from Bucharest to London Heathrow. TAROM has used the A318 to Heathrow for years, with the Romanian airline now going up against British Airways’ A320neos and Blue Air’s B737-800s (and occasionally the -500). Blue Air’s MAX 8s are expected to serve Heathrow too.

Air France and TAROM are the last airline users of the A318. Image:

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Nine scheduled airlines in the past decade

The A318 has really been all about Air France. If the last 10 years are added up, this carrier has had over four in ten (45%) of the A318’s total seats and nearly two times as many as Colombia’s Avianca, the second-largest operator. Some nine scheduled airlines have used it since 2011:

  1. Air France: 39.4 million seats
  2. Avianca: 20.9 million
  3. Avianca Brazil: 12.2 million
  4. TAROM 7.4 million
  5. LATAM Chile: 4.6 million
  6. Frontier: 1.6 million
  7. LATAM Ecuador: 561,000
  8. British Airways: 385,00
  9. Mexicana: 191,000
The Fall Of The Airbus A318 Baby Bus
Avianca was the second-largest user of the A318 in the past decade. Photo: Andrés Ramírez via Wikimedia.

Europe most important for the A318

Despite the A318’s strong use across Latin America, Europe has had nine million more seats since 2011, with this region top for the aircraft. Indeed, the A318’s leading routes are as follows, with the first – Paris CDG to Florence – aided by the Italian airport’s fairly short runway. This route has had over a million more seats than number-two, analyzing OAG data indicates:

  1. Paris CDG to Florence
  2. CDG to Geneva
  3. CDG to Copenhagen
  4. CDG to Zurich
  5. Bogota to Medellin
  6. Bogota to Cali
  7. CDG to Venice
  8. Bogota to Pasto
  9. CDG to Brest
  10. Bucharest to Istanbul
Frontier A319
Frontier stopped using the A318 in 2013. In that year, Denver to Chicago Midway was the route that it used the aircraft on the most, followed by Denver to Omaha. Photo: Eddie Maloney via Wikimedia.

Unattractive economics

The unpopularity of the A318 is largely due to its unenticing economics. The ‘baby bus’ is too heavy for its capacity, meaning higher and less attractive operating and seat-mile costs than alternative aircraft.

For example, the A319’s maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is 11% higher, but it has 18% more seats at max-capacity. This becomes even more of a problem when fuel prices increase.

Therefore, the A319’s seat-mile cost would be decently lower while enabling more revenue-generating opportunities from having more seats to sell – if they are needed. It’s the same issue with the A319 and the A320, as it is for many others (e.g. the B737-600 and -700, and -700 and -800). And if more seats aren’t needed, the Embraer 195 has a 23% lower MTOW than the A318 in return for just 6% fewer seats.

TAROM will use its A318s on 14 routes from Bucharest in 2021, especially to Frankfurt, Timisoara, Istanbul, CDG, and Heathrow. Photo: Getty Images.

But the A318 had a role

These things – and more – made the A318 less appealing in a normal commercial sense, but this is just one part of the story. The A318 found a niche.

BA A318
While London City to New York JFK is no more, BA had up to 11-weekly services on it. The A318, seen here hiding behind the Embraer 170, stopped at Shannon en route to the US to refuel. Passengers could then clear immigration, so enabling a quicker exit on arrival in New York. Photo: Getty Images.

The A318 performed well on very short runways, such as at Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont (4,341 feet), and crucially it was certified for the steep approach into London City, itself having a very short runway (4,948 feet). The A318 was also sufficiently large to enable an optimal number of business class seats (32) in an all-premium cabin.

What are your memories of the A318? Comment below!