Small, medium or large? Airbus now divides its planes by range, not size

Airbus planes will now be divided into three types: small, medium and large. But that has little to do with their size.

Airbus predicted the global aviation industry would need almost 40,000 new planes in the next 20 years, according to a market forecast released Wednesday. In announcing the data, the European manufacturer also said it was shifting how it classified its planes to emphasize their range more than their passenger capacity.

Airbus has a new way of categorizing its planes. (Courtesy of Airbus)
(Courtesy of Airbus)

Airbus said the change “simplified its segmentation to consider capacity, range and mission type.”

The classification changes will split some variants of certain models across several different size categories, a move Airbus described as reflecting “today’s evolving aircraft technology.”

Under the new system, “small” aircraft have a range up to 3,000 nautical miles (about 3,450 statute miles), “medium” planes have ranges between 3,000 and 5,000 nautical miles (about 5,750 statute miles) and those in the “large” category have a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles, according to Airbus spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn.

“For example,” Airbus said, “a short-haul A321 is Small (S) while the long-haul A321LR or XLR can be categorized as Medium (M). While the core market for the A330 is classified as Medium (M), it is likely a number will continue to be operated by airlines in a way that sits within the Large (L) market segmentation along with the A350 XWB.”

Notably missing from the chart is the A380. The biggest passenger airplane in the world is still technically for sale, although Airbus has announced that the assembly line will close in 2021. Its absence from the lineup is a stark reminder that the European planemaker isn’t putting any marketing muscle behind it anymore. If it had been included, it would have been in the “large” group, because of its very long range: A380s serve some of the longest nonstop flights in the world, such as Dallas/Fort Worth to Sydney with Qantas.

Featured photo courtesy of Jean-Vincent Reymondon / Airbus