1/15/2002: Maiden Flight of the Airbus A318

On this day in 2002, the smallest member of the Airbus A320 family, the A318, took to the skies for the first time.



January 15, 2024

DALLAS — Today, In 2002, the A318 made its inaugural flight, becoming the latest addition to the Airbus A320 family. The A318 is the smallest member of this family and is equipped with two CFM56-5 or Pratt & Whitney PW6000 engines.

After successfully launching the A319 in 1996, Airbus collaborated with China and Singapore to explore the possibility of creating a smaller aircraft to cater to the 100-seat market. However, due to differences in requirements, Airbus proceeded with the project, known as the AE31X, independently.

The A318 was the smallest member of the A320 family. Photo: Airbus.

The Baby Bus

Unfortunately, the 'Baby Bus' faced numerous challenges right from the start. Initially, during the final design phase of the A318, the demand for the aircraft plummeted due to the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks. Consequently, several airlines, including Air China (CA), America West (HP), and Trans World Airlines (TW), decided to cancel their orders.

Furthermore, when the A318 received certification from EASA and the FAA, it did not fall under the regional jet category as Airbus had initially anticipated. Consequently, the aircraft had to pay higher landing fees, which harmed its overall economic performance.

The A318 was introduced into service by Frontier Airlines (F9) in July 2003. However, the airline only operated 11 aircraft of this type before retiring the type in August 2013. The largest operator of the A318 was Air France (AF), which operated a total of 18 aircraft. The Airbus A220 is now replacing these. Only 80 A318 aircraft were manufactured.

British Airways operated a type of transatlantic service from London City (LCY) to New York (JFK). Photo: Iain Marshall.

Finding Its Niche

In 2007, the A318 received approval from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for its steep approach landing capabilities. This enabled the aircraft to operate from London City Airport (LCY). In 2009, British Airways (BA) introduced transatlantic flights to New York (JFK) using the A318.

The dedicated A318 aircraft, which was assigned the iconic Concorde flight number BA001, was specially configured with 32 business-class seats. Unfortunately, BA discontinued the route due to a decline in demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the aircraft was retired on July 31, 2020.

Featured Image: Air France A318. Photo: Roberto Leiro/Airways