Warnings of a new economic downturn in the aviation industry had been sounded by Airbus as early as 2000, even after four years of record orders and deliveries. Being able to forecast trends in the market was essential to the Airbus philosophy of developing new aircraft and new technologies only to meet the needs of its customers.
No one, however, could have predicted the tragic events of 11 September, 2001, when hijacked passenger jets were deliberately crashed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Inevitably in the aftermath of such an attack business confidence, already shaky in the face of a creeping recession, collapsed further. The number of people wanting to fly dropped immediately and cancellations of bookings for the following months flooded in. As companies everywhere cut costs many business travellers opted for economy seats. Most airlines, like many industries affected by the fall-out from 9/11, had to dramatically revise their growth forecasts. The slump, similar to that which followed the first Gulf War in 1991, was to lead to several major airlines going bankrupt before the industry began to recover.
Ironically the downturn coincided with the rapid growth of low-cost airlines, especially in Europe. Companies like easyJet found the A320-Family and in particular the A319 - ideal for their short-haul routes, which paired cities previously not directly linked by air. For Airbus it meant its strategy of producing a family of fly-by-wire aircraft which shared commonality and provided airlines with the greatest flexibility possible had, once again, paid off. Low-cost airlines found the economy, reliability and quality of Airbus A320 Family aircraft perfectly suited to the new market. In 2002, in the midst of the downturn, A319s accounted for 148 of the 300 firm orders won by Airbus, with the A320 securing 78.