If you’re flying short-haul these days, or in the near future, there’s a good chance you’ll be on an Airbus A320 or A220 aircraft.
The more established A320 has proved to be extremely popular with airlines, but the younger A220 – originally the Bombardier CSeries – is also showing great commercial potential. Airlines are attracted to the superior fuel efficiency and flexibility offered by these aircraft, while passengers like its comfortable and quiet cabin.
In this article, I’ll chart the histories of these two similar aircraft, and see how they measure up against each other.
The Airbus A320 narrow-body twinjet family first flew commercially in 1988. In December 2010, Airbus announced the A320neo (new engine option), which entered service in 2016. With more efficient engines and other efficiency improvements, including wing sharklets, the A320neo provides improved fuel economy.
With the introduction of the A320neo, older A320 versions became known as the A320ceo (current engine option). The new engine technology available on the neo aircraft provides airlines with lower operating costs and increased range. The neo engines are also quieter, improving travel comfort in the aircraft cabin.
The Airbus A220 is currently manufactured by Airbus Canada Limited Partnership. However, this aircraft was originally a Bombardier aircraft (Bombardier C Series). Airbus acquired a majority stake in the CSeries program in 2016, and Bombardier subsequently fully exited the C Series program in 2020 when Airbus increased its shareholding in the program to 75%.
The A220’s main manufacturing facility is at Mirabel Airport in Canada, but a second facility was brought online in 2019 in Mobile, Alabama, USA. For more details, check out my article about where Airbus planes are made.
The C Series program was launched in 2008, and the original variant, now known as the A220-100 (formerly known as the CS100) entered service in 2016 with Swiss. The longer variant now known as the A220-300 (formerly known as the CS300) entered service with airBaltic in 2016. There is also an A220 business jet variant known as the ACJ TwoTwenty, based on the A220-100, that was launched in 2020.
The A220 family complements the A319 and A320 neo aircraft and competes with the largest variants of the Embraer E-Jet E2 family, and the smaller B737MAX-7. It is powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1500G turbofan engines and features a carbon composite wing and an aluminum-lithium fuselage.
|Aircraft Model||First In Service|
The first A320 aircraft to be manufactured were classified as A320-100s. Only around twenty A320-100s were produced before Airbus began to roll out A320-200s. The A320-200 offered increased fuel capacity and increased range compared to the A320-100.
The neo version of the A320 started working in 2016. The neo variant provides two advanced engine choices – CFM International’s LEAP-1A and Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1100G-JM geared turbofan, as well as fuel-saving sharklets on the wingtips. These improvements bring per-seat fuel improvements of 20%, and longer ranges (up to 500nm) or two tonnes of additional payload.
Let’s take a look at some key physical characteristics and see how these two aircraft measure up against each other:
|Aircraft Model||Length/m||Wingspan/m||Tail Height/m||Fuselage Width/m||MTOW/t|
In terms of physical dimensions, the A320 and the A220 aircraft have similar fuselage lengths and wingspans. However, the A220 is a slimmer aircraft with an external fuselage 0.45m narrower than the A320 fuselage, this translates into an internal fuselage diameter that is 0.42m narrower than the A320.
In practical terms, this means that the A220 can only accommodate a maximum of five seats per row compared to six seats in the A320.
The ranges of all of the A320 and A220 variants are similar at around 3,400nm.
All A320 variants are ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) certified for 180 minutes since 2004 (EASA) and 2006 (FAA). The A220 variants are also ETOPS 180 minutes certified, having achieved this certification from Transport Canada in 2019.
ETOPS 180 minutes certification opens up new route possibilities for these narrowbody aircraft such as London – New York, Los Angeles – Honolulu, and Seoul – Darwin.
|A320ceo||6,200km/3,350nm with sharklets|
Airbus’ typical 2-class and maximum seating capacities for the A320 and A220 variants are shown in the table below. However, these numbers are for comparison purposes only, as in practice airlines fit out their aircraft in many different seating configurations and actual seat numbers can vary significantly between different variants, even within the same airline.
|Aircraft||Typical 2-Class Seating Capacity||Maximum Seating Capacity|
|A320ceo||140 – 170||180|
|A320neo||150 – 180||194|
|A220-100||100 – 120||135|
|A220-300||120 – 150||160|
In practice, we see a variety around these numbers as airlines have fitted out these aircraft in 1-class, 2-class, and 3-class configurations. In a small number of premium cabins, there are lie-flat seats which reduce overall seat density.
Looking at a variety of airlines operating A320 and A220 aircraft (Air Asia, Air Austral, AirBaltic, Air Canada, Air France, ANA, Air Senegal, Air Tanzania, Air Vanuata, Breeze Airways, British Airways, Cebu Pacific, Delta, easyjet, Egyptair, Frontier Airlines, Indigo, JetBlue, Korean, Qatar Airways, SAS, Swiss, Vistara, United Airlines, Wizz Air), actual fitted-out seat numbers typically vary as follows:
|A320||168 – 188||144-186||150-164|
|A220-300||140 – 148||126 – 145||130|
The single-aisle A320 typically offers six seats across each aisle (3-3) in economy class. Where business class is offered, the typical seating layout offers four seats per row (2-2).
The single-aisle A220 typically offers five seats across each aisle (2-3) in economy and four seats per row (2-2) where business class is offered.
Customers and Orders
As of the end of October 2022, an incredible total of 8,741 A320 aircraft have been ordered, of which 6,343 (73%) have been delivered. The majority of the backlog is for A320neo aircraft as 99.8% of A320ceo orders have now been delivered. In comparison, 788 A220 aircraft have been ordered by the end of October 2022, of which 88% are for the A220-300. So far, 29% of A220 orders have been fulfilled.
The graph below shows the number of orders and deliveries for each of the A320ceo, A320neo, A220-100, and A220-300:
You can see from the graph above that almost all A320ceo orders have been delivered and the A320 order backlog is mainly for the A320neo (40% of orders delivered). For the A220, 58% of A220-100 orders have been delivered, whereas only 25% of A220-300 orders have been delivered.
As of the end of October 2022, the top three customers for each aircraft variant are as follows:
|Top 3 Customers||A320ceo Orders|
|NAS Aviation Services||236|
|Top 3 Customers||A320neo Orders|
|Top 3 Customers||A220-100 Orders|
|Top 3 Customers||A220-300 Orders|
What strikes me from the above table is the high proportion of orders going to leasing companies. Based on Airbus’ figures, leasing companies account for 26% of total A220 orders, and 31% of A320 orders.
Odyssey Airlines is an interesting A220 customer. The airline is to be based at London’s City Airport and plans to operate A220-100s fitted out with premium cabins with only 38 flatbed seats.
A320 vs. A220: Summary
The A320 and A220 are key members of Airbus’ narrowbody commercial aircraft portfolio which compete with similar aircraft manufactured by Boeing and Embraer. These aircraft are similar in terms of overall size, however, the narrower fuselage of the A220 restricts the maximum number of seats per row to five, resulting in a lower seat capacity compared to the A320.
The A320 is an incredibly successful aircraft that has been flying commercially since 1988. So far, it has received more than 8,700 orders. The newer A220, originally developed by Bombardier as the CSeries, has been in operation since only 2016, and with almost 800 orders received to date, it’s proving to be another popular narrowbody aircraft for Airbus, and in particular North American carriers such as Delta, JetBlue, and Air Canada have all placed sizeable orders.