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The Reason Behind Airbus Aircraft Names

The Philippines is an Airbus country, with every airline except for Skyjet and Air Swift (operates ATR aircraft which is 50% owned by Airbus). From Philippine Airlines down to Royal Air, these airlines' workhorses are Airbus aircraft ranging from the A320 family all the way to the ultra-modern A350 (operated by PAL).


We are sure many are wondering why names of Airbus aircraft starts with an "A" and then followed by a "3", such as A300, A310, A320, A330, A340, A350, and then A380. Some might be asking "wait, there are still A318, A319 and A321". These aircraft belong under the A320 family.

First, the "A" stands for Airbus. That's a giveaway. What about the "3"?

For us to understand, we have to go back all the way to the very first aircraft, the Airbus A300. During the 1970s and before the A300 appeared, no widebody had 2 engines. All had 4 or 3 engines, namely the Boeing 747, DC-10, and Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. Hence, when the A300 appeared in the early 70s, it became a revolutionary aircraft. It was the only widebody aircraft that time that uses only 2 engines which can carry between 250 to 300 passengers.


When Airbus studied the aviation market during that time, no airline would order a twin-engine aircraft that carries 300 passengers hence, they decided to reduce the capacity to 250. 

However, the name "A300" stuck, so Airbus decided to continue with its naming of A300 to avoid confusion among its potential customers.

The first Airbus A300 rolled out in 1972. Photo credits: Wikimedia

When Airbus started introducing its new aircraft, they wanted to keep the name cohesion for branding purposes hence, they named their succeeding two smaller aircraft "A310" then followed by "A320" for the manufacturer's first narrowbody. Then all else followed, A330, A340, then A350.

Why did Airbus skip A360 and A370, naming their superjumbo "A380" right away? The company wanted a distinguishable name due to the sheer size of the aircraft, which became the world's largest passenger aircraft. This also gives Airbus the option to produce more aircraft smaller than the A380 and naming them A360 and A370.

The A220 is a different story. While Airbus really never explained why it went for the "A2", the A220 is originally a Bombardier C series jet. The CS100 became the A220-100 and the CS300 became the A220-300 when Airbus bought the C series program. Hence, the A220 was never an Airbus original.

So to sum things up, every Airbus aircraft starts with "A3XX" because its first aircraft was named A300 since it could potentially carry up to 300 passengers. Then to keep the continuity of the name branding, Airbus decided to adapt the "A3XX" to all of its commercial aircraft line.

Korean Air Airbus A220-300. Photo credits: Wikipedia

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