Since the early A300s, all Airbus aircraft had undergone their final assembly Toulouse, with cabin installation carried out in Hamburg. But after the launch in November, 1989, of the 186-seat A321, the stretch version of the A320, it emerged that this tradition was to be broken. Final assembly and interior-fitting of this aircraft, Airbus announced, would take place in Hamburg. Subsequent members of the A320 Family launched in the following years would also be assembled and outfitted in Hamburg, while final assembly of the A320, A300-600 and A310 would remain in Toulouse. Both final assembly and interior-fitting of the A330 and A340 would be done in Toulouse. Airbus said the integration of final assembly and cabin installation at the same site would improve efficiency and reduce lead-times.
Sales of Airbus aircraft, buoyed by the A320, were going well when the first Gulf War broke out in January, 1991. A dramatic slump in the number of people flying followed. Airlines cancelled orders for new aircraft, making their existing fleets last longer. As fears for future profitability grew, confidence withered. Like every aircraft manufacturer, Airbus suffered in what the industry referred to as “the downturn”. Yet, despite the gloomy economic climate, Airbus doggedly persisted with its expansion of the A320 Family in the belief that downturns end and demand would return – a brave decision which would pay huge rewards. In March 1993, came the first flight of the A321, followed three months later by the launch of the 124-seat A319. (The so-called “baby” of the family, the 107-seat A318, would be launched several years later.) By offering such a comprehensive range of the most advanced passenger aircraft possible, Airbus was giving its customers the opportunity to build a fleet with maximum flexibility. Thanks to fly-by-wire commonality, an airline could operate Airbus aircraft across the whole range of sectors, from short-haul to ultra long-haul, switching cross-qualified pilots and crews according to need at short notice. Maintenance costs were also lower, a significant benefit to operators.