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Technology

New “sharklets” and A320neo

Sharklets are designed to reduce fuel burn by up to four per cent on A320 Family aircraft.
Sharklets are designed to reduce fuel burn by up to four per cent on A320 Family aircraft.

A major step forward in aerodynamic improvements was the 2012 introduction of “Sharklets” beginning with certain A320ceo (current engine option) Family aircraft. Sharklets are 2.4-meter-tall wingtip devices that provide operators with the flexibility of either adding an additional 100 nautical miles range or increased payload capability of up to 450 kg. Made from lightweight composites, these wingtip devices offer up to four per cent overall fuel burn savings.

Sharklets took to the sky for the first time in November 2011 with a successful five-hour maiden flight from Toulouse, France using Airbus’ in-house A320 development aircraft. Subsequently, at the 2012 ILA Berlin Air Show, Airbus announced that AirAsia would become the initial operator of a Sharklets-equipped aircraft and the airline took delivery of an A320 outfitted with these devices in December 2012. 

Sharklets have since expanded to the shorter-fuselage A319 and longer-fuselage A321 family members. The initial A319 with these devices was delivered to American Airlines in July 2013 – and also marked Airbus’ 100th A320 Family aircraft featuring Sharklets. Less than two months later, the company delivered its first Sharklets-equipped A321, which was received by Finnair. 

The A320neo (new engine option) benefits from propulsion technology improvements being prepared by engine manufacturers from 2016.

This option on new-build A320ceo Family aircraft has been popular with operators worldwide, as around 50 per cent of Airbus’ single aisle aircraft coming off the final assembly line will be equipped with these wingtip devices by the end of 2013 – growing to more than 90 per cent of A320 Family aircraft produced in 2014.

Sharklets also will be standard on A320neo (new engine option) Family aircraft, which are scheduled to enter service starting in late 2015.

The A320neo is the latest of many product upgrades as Airbus continues to invest approximately 300 million euros a year in the A320 Family to maintain its position as the most advanced and fuel-efficient single-aisle aircraft product line. 

Launched in December 2010, the NEO programme features the choice of two new engines (Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1100G-JM, and the LEAP-1A from CFM) on A319, A320 and A321 aircraft, along with the Sharklet wingtip devices. Together they provide a 15 per cent fuel consumption reduction, corresponding to an annual CO2 reduction of 3,600 tonnes per aircraft.  

Best-in-class

The A320 Family heralded a new era for single-aisle aircraft, introducing the latest technology and innovation in a category of aircraft that had not seen true modernisation since the dawn of the jet age.  

The A320 Family offers technology that reduces costs.


Airbus continues to enhance the capabilities of this eco-efficient product line with continuous improvements in aerodynamics and systems.

Airbus pioneered the fly-by-wire concept with its A320 Family, and years of reliable service around the world have proven the significant benefits through commonality, improved flight safety, reduced pilot workload, a reduction of mechanical parts, and real-time monitoring of all aircraft systems.

Fast and efficient

Fast and efficient

An advanced wing design makes the A320 Family faster and more efficient.  Compared to its nearest competitor, the A320 Family is four per cent more efficient at a cruise speed of Mach 0.78 and can fly four per cent faster for the same efficiency. 

The A320 jetliner’s higher bypass ratio jet engines provide better fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs, and these powerplants have been evolved by their manufacturers to further improve maintainability – along with reducing emissions and improving fuel consumption.

Modern airframe

Airbus has incorporated the best in advanced design concepts, modern production methods and new materials in the A320’s airframe to ensure high structural reliability and easy maintainability.  Improved aluminium alloys increase structural life, while the extensive use of composite materials save weight and reduce parts.

The fly-by-wire concept for flight controls was introduced by Airbus on the A320 Family, which literally revolutionised the civil air transport industry.  In addition to providing precise handling characteristics and a new level of flight protection, fly-by-wire also introduced the Airbus cockpit commonality concept, which provides daily benefits for operators worldwide.

State-of-the-art operations

The first A318 with “steep approach” capability delivered to British Airways for operation on long-haul flights between London City and New York’s JFK Airport
The first A318 with “steep approach” capability delivered to British Airways for operation on long-haul flights between London City and New York’s JFK Airport

Advanced navigation technology is available for the A320 Family to support its worldwide fleet’s operations.  This includes the Required Navigation Performance (RNP) capability, which reduces approach distances for landing while reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions; the Global Position (GPS) landing system, allowing instrument-type approaches where ground stations are not available; the Microwave Landing System (MLS) for increased approach capability in low visibility conditions; and the Future Air Navigation System (FANS) for optimised flight path and reduced aircraft spacing.

The A320 Family’s operational flexibility is underscored by the A318’s “steep approach” approval – making it the largest commercial aircraft certified to land at steeper-than-usual gradients, allowing for operations out of mountainous or constrained locations such as urban area airports. Using this capability, British Airways pioneered service from the in-town London City Airport to New York’s JFK International.

Cockpit commonality

A pilot qualified on one version can fly all of the other A320 Family members without extra training, as the result of the single type rating provided by airworthiness authorities.  The Cross-Crew Qualification concept was introduced by Airbus to allows pilots qualified on the A320 Family to transition into any other Airbus fly-by-wire aircraft with only difference training –Whilst the Airbus  Mixed-Fleet Flying concept enables  pilots to  operate multiple aircraft types across the current Airbus single-aisle and widebody product lines.

With fly-by-wire flight controls and cockpit commonality, the Airbus A320, A330, A340 and A380 families share similar handling characteristics and flight procedures, resulting in five-to-15 per cent more productive flying for operators and approximately 80 per cent lower transition costs for flight crews.  Today, more than 50 airlines benefit from Airbus’ unique commonality.

Continuous investment

In addition, with major improvement steps such as the A320neo, Airbus investments keep the A320 Family at the leading edge of technology.  As a result, the aircraft have improved payload and range, enhanced performance, improved maintenance, and more efficient operational procedures.

Aerodynamic enhancements such as a new shaped engine pylon and a redesigned upper-belly fairing have reduced cruise drag, improving the A320 Family’s fuel consumption and lowering emissions.

Orders & deliveries

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Did you know?

A320 Assembly Line in Tianjin, China
A320 Assembly Line in Tianjin, China
  • A320 Family aircraft are assembled in France, Germany and China.

  • The A320 Final Assembly Line in Toulouse once was the Concorde Assembly Hall.

  • Consisting primarily of aluminium alloy, the A320 is also built with high technology materials such as carbon composites, Kevlar and fiberglass.

  • A320 Family aircraft fly to some of the world's most challenging airports including Himalayan airfields in China, India and Bhutan.

  • 80 per cent of A320 Family operators fly at least two members of the Family.

  • An A320 Family aircraft takes off or lands every 2.5 seconds of every day.