As the original Airbus A300 gathered popularity during the 1970’s, the European conglomerate felt that it was time to expand their portfolio, and in doing so gave the world this, the Airbus A310, a somewhat obscure but generally loved variant used for the longest of flights. Though not built in the same quantity as the A300 off which it was based, it was certainly a popular choice, and even to this day still has a strong presence in the world of aviation.
When building the Airbus A300, the company tested a variety of different sizes and capacities to see what other options could be made available to customers. Similarly in fashion to the Boeing 747SP, Airbus considered the idea of a smaller, lighter plane with increased range to make it appealing to long-haul carriers without the need for stopovers. Much of the research done was placed into the Airbus A300B, but the company still toyed with satisfying the demand by many airlines for smaller aircraft with longer range. The reason for such a demand came from two factors, either there was not enough demand for the larger A300 on some routes, or it was because carriers wanted more frequency or lower aircraft-mile costs at the expense of higher seat-mile cost (specifically Swissair and Lufthansa).
Airbus began working on the project under the name A300B10MC (Minimum Change). Capacity was reduced to 220 passengers, which was then a desired capacity from many airlines. However, the A300B10MC project was quickly dogged with problems, starting with the design. The smaller fuselage mated to a comparatively large wing and oversized undercarriage would make the aircraft burn unnecessarily more fuel as it carries more weight.
The next problem came externally by way of high inflation rates in the UK during the late 1970’s. At the time, Britain was recovering from the worst recession since the end of World War II, and since Airbus had subcontracted wing construction to Hawker Siddeley Aviation (HSA), the costs were increased dramatically. Prior to this, HSA had been forced to withdraw from the Airbus project in 1969 as the government were unwilling to pay such high costs to be part of it, but following the merger of the company with the newly formed British Aerospace (BAe) in 1977, the government was eager to rejoin the Airbus project. Airbus sadly however had little support from British national carrier British Airways, or engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, who remained keen buyers of American products and were investing in Boeing’s new 757 and 767 projects.
In May 1976, Airbus placed a demand on British Airways to invest in the company if it had any desire to reenter the project, but while British Airways remained fervently Boeing orientated, British Aerospace was eager to chip in. At the 1978 Farnborough Air Show, Eric Varley, the British Secretary of State for Industry, announced that BAe wished to rejoin the Airbus Industrie as a full partner from 1st January, 1979. This would mean BAe would be allocated 20% shareholding and would play “a full part in the development and manufacturing of the A310”.
With BAe aboard, the new airliner project, now dubbed the A310, could begin in
earnest. Essentially a shortened A300, the main differences in the two aircraft are a shortened fuselage, consisting of the same cross-section but with a capacity of around 200 passengers; redesigned rear fuselage, altered tapering and moving aft of the rear bulkhead created additional capacity (later used similarly on the A300-600, A330 and A340); redesigned wing incorporating simpler single-slotted Fowler flaps designed by British Aerospace; modified undercarriage with carbon brakes fitted as standard; common pylons able to support all types of engines offered for the aircraft;
increased use of composite materials in both primary and secondary structure; electrically actuated spoilers; integrated drive electrical generators and an improved auxiliary power unit.
Initially, two versions of the A310 were planned, the regional A310-100 and the transcontinental A310-200. The A310-100 had a range of 2,000mi with 200 passengers, whilst the -200 had a higher MTOW and centre section fuel, and could carry the same load a further 1,000mi. Basic engines offered included the General Electric CF6-45B2 and Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4. Rolls Royce at one time considered offering an engine for the A310 but dropped the program.
The range of the A310 exceeds that of the A300 series with the exception of the A300-600R, which surpasses that of the A310-200. The A310’s greater range has led to the aircraft being used extensively on transatlantic routes. The A300 and A310 introduced the concept of commonality: A300-600 and A310 pilots can cross-qualify for the other aircraft with one day of training.
Sales of the A310 continued and by the time the prototype A310-200 aircraft made its first flight on 3rd April, 1982, orders and options for 181 aircraft had been placed by 15 airlines worldwide, a somewhat better start than that of the original A300. It was clear that the longer-range series −200 aircraft was the more popular aircraft and Airbus decided in 1979 to stop offering the low gross weight series A310-100 (originally proposed for Lufthansa), none of which were built.
The Airbus A310 entered service with launch customer Swissair in April 1983, and was
immediately very popular, due largely to its easy flying capabilities and performance. Eventually, the A310 would find itself in the service of many European national carriers, including Air France, Lufthansa, Sabena, Swissair, TAROM, Martinair, British Caledonian and Cyprus Airways. The A310 also had the distinction of being both the first Airbus and the first Western built aircraft to be sold behind the Iron Curtain, this being to East German national carrier Interflug in 1988.
Much like the A300 however, the A310 failed to make it big in America, with only Delta Airlines showing any interest with 9 aircraft in their fleet. In Canada however the A310 was very popular, particularly with charter airline Air Transat, who still operate the aircraft today. In Africa and the Middle East the A310 also found popularity, with Air Afrique of the Ivory Coast, Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Pakistan International.
The A310 remained in production without any major alterations until June 1998, when the last of the type was delivered. The A310 was still available as an option though until A300 production was officially ceased in 2007, with an order from Iraqi Airways for five A310s remaining on the books until July 2008. Interest in the A310 had slowly waned throughout the 1990’s, and by 1995 there were no new orders for passenger variants, its role being largely superseded by the Airbus A330. In total, 255 of these aircraft were constructed, making it a success in its own right, especially given the line-up of high profile carriers that once and still do use it.
However, the A310 sadly doesn’t have a clean streak when it comes to accidents, and as of 2016 the aircraft has suffered 12 hull-loss accidents with a total of 825 fatalities; and 9 hijackings with a total of five fatalities.
The first incident involving the A310 was Singapore Airlines Flight 117, when on March 26th, 1991, the aircraft was hijacked by four terrorists and flown to Singapore, where after a tense standoff, the hijackers were shot and killed by the Singapore Armed Forces Commando Formation when they stormed the plane, with no injuries among the
The first fatal incident however happened a year later on July 31st, 1992, when Thai Airways International Flight 311 was flown into a mountain while attempting to land at Tribhuvan International Airport in Nepal, killing all 113 aboard.
The most controversial crash of an Airbus A310 however was Aeroflot Flight 593 on March 23rd, 1994. During an overnight flight from Moscow to Hong Kong, the pilot allowed his son to take control of the aircraft. As the child turned the yoke and held it, this deactivated the autopilot, resulting in the aircraft entering a nosedive and crashing into the barren Siberian countryside, killing all 75 aboard. This crash resulted in there being no passengers allowed on the Flight Deck during flight without special permission.
Just over a year later on March 31st, 1995, TAROM Flight 371 crashed in Baloteşti next to Otopeni International Airport near Bucharest, Romania, after a jamming of the throttle on the starboard engine followed by a lack of reaction by pilots, killing all 60 aboard.
Another notable crash was that of Yemenia Flight 626, which crashed off the Comoros Islands on June 30th, 2009, killing 153 out of the 154 aboard. The sole survivor, 12-year-old Bahia Bakari, was travelling with her mother at the time of the crash, and was ejected from the plane when it struck the water. She remained floating on pieces of debris overnight before being rescued the next morning by a rescue vessel.
Today, 62 Airbus A310’s are known to still be in service, many remaining with major carriers. Air Transat of Canada continues to operate 9 examples, though it plans to replace them in the near future. Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Pakistan International Airlines still operate several, while many have been converted for use as freighters and work for Fedex in the United States. Two aircraft have also been preserved, one, ex-Nigeria Airways A310-222 5N-AUG, as a cafe south of Brussels Charleroi Airport, the other, ex-China Eastern Airlines A310-222 B-2301, at the China Civil Aviation Museum near Beijing Capital International Airport.
Among aviation enthusiasts, the A310 has its lovers, but a majority don’t really take much notice of it, being seen more as a short A300 more than anything else. I personally fall into the latter category, it’s an interesting plane, but not particularly endearing when it came to shortened fuselage versions of existing aircraft. While the 747SP for example had some novelty for being such a stubby 747, the A310 just looks to similar to the A300 to hold that distinction. Still, it’s always interesting to see one flying about, and let’s hope it remains in hard working, revenue service into the future.