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Airbus A320, Plane in French Alps Crash, Is Workhorse With Strong Safety Record

The Airbus A320 — the type of jetliner that crashed on Tuesday in the French Alps — is a workhorse of the skies, in service every minute all over the world, and boasts a strong safety record.

More than 6,000 planes in the A320 family are in service in various models, and the A320 is flown by all the major U.S. airlines.

"It's a delight to fly," said John Cox, a former pilot and the CEO of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation consulting company. "It's a highly reliable airplane."

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It has been involved in high-profile accidents, however. AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed into the Java Sea on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore in December, killing 162 people on board, was an A320. The cause of that crash is under investigation.

And in January 2009, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger guided an A320 into the frigid Hudson River, saving everyone on board, after the plane struck birds on takeoff and both engines failed.

A Germanwings Airbus A320 registration D-AIPX is seen at the Berlin airport in this March 29, 2014 file photo. An Airbus plane operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline crashed in southern France on Tuesday en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, police and aviation officials said.
Jan Seba | Reuters
A Germanwings Airbus A320 registration D-AIPX is seen at the Berlin airport in this March 29, 2014 file photo. An Airbus plane operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline crashed in southern France on Tuesday en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, police and aviation officials said.

The A320 that crashed on Tuesday was operated by Germanwings, a low-cost carrier operated by Lufthansa. It had been in service for 24 years. At least 148 people were believed on board, and the French president said there were probably no survivors.

Read MoreAirbus A320 crashes in France, 150 feared dead

The A320 is sophisticated, one of the first highly computerized, or fly-by-wire, planes in service. Because the crash did not happen on takeoff or landing, whatever happened was probably sudden and catastrophic, air safety experts said.

"What appears to have happened here is some kind of catastrophic problem, whether it was human-induced by a passenger or whether it was mechanical in nature," Anthony Roman, a former pilot, said on MSNBC.

"Whatever happened, whether it was human, passenger or mechanical, happened very, very rapidly," he said.

Read MoreChart: Plane crash deaths by the numbers

French air-disaster investigators are among the best in the world, Cox said.

Airbus said on Twitter that it was aware of reports of the crash, and that "all efforts are now going towards assessing the situation."