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Wingspan: Did you know?

Last week, we decoded the numbers and letters that Boeing used until 2016 to identify their commercial aircraft. Airbus also uses a three-digit suffix, such as with this Airbus A380-842 below. But the suffix used by Airbus means something different than that used by Boeing. What does it mean?

Early in the development of Airbus airliners, the company realized that there was money to be made in offering different engines to different customers. The A330, for example, was the first airliner to offer three different engine options. Some airlines might have a preference for a specific brand, they might already have technicians who are skilled in the maintenance of engines built by a certain manufacturer, or one particular engine might offer performance in areas that appeals to aircraft buyers.

Delta Airlines Airbus A321-211

Where Boeing uses a three-digit code to indicate the variant and customer, Airbus uses a three-digit code to indicate the variant and the engine manufacturer (a system which began with the Airbus A310). The first digit indicates the major variant (as with Boeing), so our A380 is, more precisely, an A380-800.

Spirit Airlines Airbus A319-132

The second digit signifies the engine manufacturer. At the moment, there are six engine manufacturers providing power for Airbus commercial airliners, and the company assigned the numbers 0-5 to these manufacturers (why they started with 0 is anybody’s guess).


0 = General Electric
1 = CFM International
2 = Pratt & Whitney
3 = International Aero Engines
4 = Rolls-Royce
5 = Engine Alliance

The third number in the series indicates the version of the engine made by that manufacturer.


So, looking back at our Qantas A380-842 at the top, we can now determine that it is an A380-800, fitted with Rolls-Royce engines, specifically the Trent 972 (though you probably wouldn’t know that the final 2 stood for the Trent 972—I had to look that up). Other letters may also be added to further signify engine types, such as R for long range (used with the A300-600), X for extended range, or F for freighter.

Saudi Arabian Airlines Airbus A330-343X (Ercan Karakas via Wikimedia Commons)

A comprehensive list of all Airbus aircraft and their engine codes can be found here and here.

Photographs by the author unless noted

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If you enjoyed this post, please join in the conversation and let me know. For more posts about airplanes, aviation history and aircraft oddities, set your course for Wingspan.


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