The last Airbus A318 operated by a North American airline has exited service. The A318, sometimes affectionately referred to as the “Babybus,” is the smallest member of the Airbus A320 family. Weighing nearly the same as its larger brother, the A319, and operating with the same crew requirements, the economics of operating the A318 in North America just didn’t make sense. The similarly-sized Boeing 737-600 has largely suffered the same fate (although WestJet still operates a fleet in Canada).
Frontier Airlines (F9) was the launch customer for the A318, receiving their first bird in July of 2003. They took delivery of 11 copies from 2003 – 2007, but recently they retired their last A318. When asked about the retiring of the young aircraft, a Frontier spokesperson told AirlineReporter.com that, “over the past few years, Frontier€™s fleet strategy has focused on increasing the average size of our aircraft, while decreasing the per seat operating cost, in order to provide the lowest fares to our customers. With fewer seats, the cost of operation per seat on the A318 was higher compared with the A319 or A320.”
A318s only remain in service with a small number of carriers, with the bulk flown by Air France and Avianca, and just a few still by LAN and Tarom. A LAN representative told AirlineReporter.com that they are still operating three A318’s (through subsidiaries) but plan to retire those birds by the end of the year. British Airways (BA) also operates a token fleet, using an all-business layout for the London City – JFK route (and utilizing the old Concorde flight numbers).
The fleet choice is not accidental; one of the selling points of the A318 was its ability to utilize small airports. According to an Airbus representative, “the A318 is unique in its own right as it is the largest commercial aircraft certified to land at steeper-than-usual gradients, making it ideal for constrained locations and downtown airports €“ and that means major cost and time savings for business travelers.”
Most of the retired A318s have actually been scrapped; the engines and major components are more valuable parted out than the plane as a whole.
An interesting factoid – the A318 has a taller tail than its siblings, much like the 737-600 and the 747 SP. Those fat, short jets just need the extra stability. Plus, it gave Frontier a bigger palette for their adorable animal branding (unfortunately, when their old A318s was ferried to Europe to be broken up, the tail got “blanked” first).
We asked AirlineReporter.com readers on our Facebook page how they felt about the A318 leaving North America. While many had flown the F9 birds, most folks were less-than-nostalgic about the Babybus. The best comment goes to reader Lyle Perry, who said the A318, “looks like it got shrunk in the dryer.”
Being Denver-based, I actually flew on a number of F9’s A318s. The were sort of a novelty, but far better than flying on a regional jet. Very easy to load and unload, that’s for sure! I would love to get on one of those BA flights across the pond, though.