Once the smallest member of the Airbus A320 family, and indeed the entire company, the Airbus A319 has become a vital part of airlines all over the globe, providing economic jet aviation to locations and seeing off many ageing rivals.
The Airbus A319’s origins essentially start at the same time as the A320. The A320 was born from a desire by European multinational aircraft manufacturer Airbus to create a range of different airliner types to appeal to all markets and thereby create a suitable competitor to the American giants Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. Airbus, upon its formation in 1970, launched its first aircraft, the A300, in 1972, a wide-body long-range airliner which helped cement the company as a viable venture. However, while the first 10 years of the company saw no expansion in its fleet aside from the short-bodied A310, Airbus had launched what was known as the JET (Joint European Transport) project, which set out the dimensions for a single aisle, short to medium range jet airliner that would take on the likes of the Boeing 737 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-9.
The JET project resulted in three designs
which came under the Single-Aisle (SA) acronym: SA1 (130 to 140 seats), SA2 (140 – 150 seats) and SA3 (170 – 180 seats). For the Airbus A320, the company settled on the middle-sized SA2 design, which was eventually carried forward to the launch of the aircraft in 1987. The A320 was immediately lauded for its reliability, efficiency, performance and fly-by-wire technology, which seemed to be centuries ahead of the competition. This success was followed in 1994 by a stretched variant of the A320, the A321, which was built to take on the Boeing 757.
However, a hole in the market appeared in its books for lower capacity or higher frequency routes. Flights which operate to remote regions, airports with shorter runways or work high capacity commuter routes between large airports, often require the use of a smaller airliner to remove the need for flying empty seats on a larger airliner (in the first and second instances) or to allow for quicker turnaround times at destinations (in the third). Boeing had considered this option with the Boeing 737-300 and the then upcoming Boeing 737-700, while the Airbus A320 was considered too large for the requirements.
As such, the Airbus A320M-7 (Minus Seven Fuselage Frames) project was launched in around 1990 based on the specifications of the original SA1 design configuration. The project took the Airbus A320 and reduced it by 12ft 3in, achieved by removing four fuselage frames ahead and three frames aft of the wings. The result was also the removal of one pair of overwing exits, though the option of the higher capacity 156-seat A319,
used specifically by easyJet, retained four overwing exit doors. Furthermore, the A319 replaced the bulk cargo door with an aft container door capable of handling the reduced height LD3-45 containers. The aircraft’s onboard computer software was also modified to take account of the shorter length and lighter build, with parameters considering a quicker V-rotation speed and other performance characteristics.
Power was provided by a mixture of CFM56-5A or V2500-A5 engines, both of which were used on the A320, but had been derated to 22,000lbf of thrust. The aircraft retained the same fuel capacity as the A320, allowing the aircraft to fly a range of 6,850km. The aircraft also has the distinction of possessing a wingspan which is wider than the aircraft is long. Performance wise, the two engine options allow the A319 to fly at a top speed of 541mph at a service ceiling of 39,000ft.
The A319 became available for sale on May 22nd, 1992, with six aircraft immediately being ordered by ILFC (International Lease Finance Corporation), who would hire out the aircraft to other airlines. Carrier orders came following the $275m launch programme, which resulted in carriers including Swissair and Alitalia taking up units.
The first aircraft was assembled at the Hamburg plant in Germany on March 23rd, 1995, with a roll out following on August 24th the same year, with a maiden flight taking place the next day. After 350 hours of rigorous testing, the aircraft was accepted as airworthy by the European Joint Aviation Authorities in April 1996, with the first delivery to Swissair taking place on April 25th of that month and entering service the following week.
Almost immediately, the A319 garnered critical acclaim for inhabiting the same reliability, efficiency and performance as the larger A320, but also providing a suitable amount of capacity for a wide variety of services. It even made a splash hit in the United States, due largely to the stellar reputation of its forebears, with orders being made by America West, Virgin America, Air Canada and US Airways (who were also the largest worldwide operator of the A320 Family). In Europe, pretty much every airline on the continent operated at least one A319, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, SAS, Iberia, easyJet and many, many more. This was followed by a record breaking delivery flight of 6,645km from the Hamburg factory to Winnipeg, Canada via the Arctic Circle in January 1997, completing the flight in 9 hours and 5 minutes.
The A319 was complimented by a multitude of variants, starting with the ACJ319 (Corporate Jet), a business jet variant which would combat the Boeing BBJ (Boeing Business Jet) project. This version of the A319 increases the performance by having a higher service ceiling of 41,000ft and a range of 6,000km. The aircraft’s design permits a maximum seating capacity of 39 passengers, but all internal cabin designs are specified by the customer.
The next was the A319LR, unveiled in 2003, which extended the range of the regular A319 to 4,500km. The A319LR, however, was not a major success, with its low capacity not exactly complimenting its long distance flying capabilities. As such, only 6 were ever built, two to Qatar, two to PrivatAir and finally two to Eurofly, the last deliveries being in
The final development of the A319, like all other members of the A320 family, is the A319neo (new engine option) design. Development of the project began in 2010, followed by the unveiling of the project in 2017. The A319neo replaces the original engines with CFM LEAP-1A or Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines, reducing fuel consumption by 15% and operating costs by 8%. This is complimented by large curved winglests, weight savings, a new cabin design and other aerodynamic refinements. However, unlike the success of the original A319, the A319neo has proven to be the least popular of the neo range, with only 51 orders placed compared to the 3,673 A320neo and 1,478 A321neo variants.
Another consideration is a military based A319 known as the A319 MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft). The MPA was derived from an earlier military version which had been considered by Airbus as a troop and VIP transport. The new design is to competed against the Boeing P-8 Poseidon (a military version of the 737-800), with orders being considered by the Royal Canadian Air Force and the German and French navies.
The A319, however, has not been immune to its fair share of accidents and incidents, however, the comparatively small number of these truly is a testament to its brilliant design and reliability. Since its release in 1996, the aircraft has suffered 5 accidents, but has not suffered a single passenger fatality (as of 2017).
The first accident occurred in January 2003, when a Northwest Airlines A319 was towed by maintenance crews into a Boeing 757 and a gate at New York’s LaGuardia airport, causing the nose gear to collapse. The empty aircraft was subsequently written-off.
The second was another Northwest Airlines example, which was damaged significantly when a company Douglas DC-9 collided with it on the ground at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in May 2005. The aircraft was repaired and returned to service.
The next was in August 2010, when Azerbaijan Airlines Flight 75 suffered a gear collapse during its takeoff roll at Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport, thankfully with no injuries.
In September of the same year, Wind Jet Flight 243 landed short of the runway at Palermo Airport in Italy due to windshear, causing one of the gear to break and writing-off the aircraft. However, all passengers escaped with only minor injuries reported.
The latest incident involving the A319 was British Airways Flight 762, which had to return to Heathrow Airport in May 2013 when the fan cowl doors detached from both engines shortly after takeoff, followed by a fire in the right engine which continued to burn after the engine had been shut down. Improper maintenance procedures were blamed for the incident, but the passengers escaped unharmed.
Today, 1,440 A319’s are in operation with 108 carriers all over the world, with easyJet and American Airlines operating the largest fleets with 143 and 125 aircraft, respectively. This is complimented by orders for 24 original A319’s, and 51 A319neos.
The A319 truly is the unsung hero of many airlines, a simple commuter plane that plies its merry trade on routes which would otherwise seem mundane. Whether its connecting the largest cities of the world or ferrying passengers to holiday destinations in the Caribbean or the Canary Islands, you’ll doubtless find that an Airbus A319 will be the plucky little jet that will fly you out on these journeys, bringing people and places closer together.