Two airliner manufacturers are synonymous with the term “air travel.” You can ask just about anyone what kind of airplanes airlines fly and you will get the response of either Boeing or Airbus. While Boeing’s most popular aircraft family is the 737, Airbus’s is the A320.
This time, we will focus on the A320 family. More specifically, we will look at how the A319 and the A321 – the shortened and stretched versions of the A320 – compare.
Airbus A319 and A321: More Similar Than Different
Something super easy to do for this Airbus “battle” is to eliminate the similarities between the two types. They vastly outweigh the differences. After all, both the A319 and A321 are set up to be almost the exact same.
They operate on a digital fly-by-wire system, which is something that the A320 has pioneered in airliners. This means instead of the series of pulleys and levers that are used by the “hands-on” system used by Boeing 737s as well as a myriad of other airplanes utilizing a yoke or central stick between their legs such as in the Piper Cub, a fly-by-wire system utilized computers to input flight controls.
This was a much lighter weight system than the hands-on controls and the additional redundancy helps ensure more safety systems to eliminate the human error that causes most airplane crashes.
On a side note, the famous supersonic airplane the Concorde was the first airliner to have an analog fly-by-wire system.
The fly-by-wire system allows for a sidestick instead of the typical yoke for pilots to control the aircraft. This allowed for more room in the cockpit for the pilots giving them a favorable opinion of this aircraft as well.
In the cabin, both aircraft are single-aisle and typically come in a 3-3 seating arrangement in economy class. For business/first class, both aircraft are typically set up to be in a 2-2 arrangement.
The Biggest Difference Between the A319 and A321: Size
When it comes to Airbus, a major advantage is that all of the models in the A320 family operate similarly and a single type rating is all that’s required for pilots to operate all of them including the A318, A319, A320, and A321.
Unlike with the Boeing 737 where the model names can get a bit confusing, with the A320 family, things are simple. As the model “number” gets larger, so does the aircraft. Therefore, the A318 is the smallest and the A321 the largest in the family.
Airbus also recently introduced re-engined variants adding “NEO,” “LR,” and so on after the model names. Those letters, however, really only differentiate the fuel efficiency and range of the aircraft rather than the size.
The A321 is longer with the fuselage coming in at 44.51 meters (146.03 feet) in comparison to the A319’s 33.84 meters (111.02 feet).
As expected, this allows for a larger seating capacity of the A321 ranging from 180 passengers to 244 passengers in a high-density arrangement seen on many low-cost carriers. The A319 ranges from 110 passengers to a high-density arrangement of 160 seats.
Freight-wise, the A319 can carry 27.62 cubic meters and the A321 as much as 51.73 cubic meters in its cargo hold.
In spite of the different length and resulting capacity differences, however, the two share most other dimensions.
All the aircraft in the A320 series have the same wingspan of 35.8 meters (117.45 feet) and a wing area of 122.6 square meters (1319.66 square feet). They also share the same tail height of 11.76 meters (38.58 feet).
When it comes to the fuselage, the width and height also match at 3.95 meters (12.96 feet) and 4.14 meters (13.58 feet) respectively.
Lastly, they all share the aerodynamic similarity of a wing sweepback angle of 25 degrees.
A319 vs. A321: Performance Differences
When it comes to aircraft, a top marker for performance is the range. The A319 does a great job getting 3,750 nm (6,950 km). The NEO upgrade didn’t affect the range of the A319.
The A321 originally only had a range of 3,200 nm (5,950 km), but the NEO upgrade vastly improved it giving it a range of up to 4,000 nm (7,400 km) depending on the subvariant. This makes the A321NEO a much better option for airlines looking to expand their service and maximize profit.
A potentially limiting factor for the A321 would be the take-off and landing distance requirements when going into smaller airports. The take-off distance for the A319 is 2,164 meters in comparison to the A321’s take-off distance of 2,560 meters. Things are similar with the landing distance too – it’s 1,400 meters (4,593.18 feet) for the A319 and 1,500 meters (4,521.26 feet) for the A321.
For the most part, this doesn’t hinder too often as most large cities with large airports are well equipped to deal with aircraft with much longer runway length requirements, such as those required by the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380.
As for operating speeds, both the A319 and the A320 can cruise at Mach 0.78 (828 km/h) and have a maximum operating speed of Mach 0.82 (871 km/h). These operational limitations are set via government regulation more so than aircraft performance limitations.
A Brief History of the A319 and A321
The A319 first flew on August 25, 1995. The first delivery was shortly after that in 1996 to Swissair. Now, the A319 is incredibly popular and used by the world’s largest airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, EasyJet, and Delta Air Lines. It’s so widely used that if you look up an airline with a large fleet, chances are good that they use it.
Interestingly, the first A321 had its first flight before the A319, on March 11, 1993. Lufthansa took the first delivery in 1994, making it the first airline to utilize the A321. Nowadays, American Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and China Eastern Airlines are among the largest operators of the A321.
A319 vs. A321: Which Is Better?
This is almost an unfair comparison, but the best aircraft of the two might seem obvious. At least, many people would assume the A321 is the better option because it is more fuel-efficient and holds more people.
In reality, the best aircraft is the one that offers the most profit and fits the market the airline is trying to serve. After all, there is no need for more capacity if there are not enough passengers to fill the plane.
That said, the NEO is definitely the better option between the two generations offered, but both aircraft are incredible machines. As a passenger, you should feel totally safe and assured in either.