At the Paris Air Show last week, there was a real star of the show – the Airbus A321XLR (Extra Long Range), which amassed a bunch of orders and interest. Let’s dive into it, and examine a few question this new type offers.
Expanding the A320neo family
Back to basics first. The A321XLR is a development of the Airbus A320 family. As you’re aware the A320neo (new engine option) launched in December 2010, with the first flight by Lufthansa in January 2016. The A320neo family can be broken down as:
The last two are the new members of the A320neo family – the LR and XLR. The LR entered service last year with . Arkia Air, quickly followed by TAP Portugal, La Companige and Air Transat. It features a range of 4,000nmi, verses the XLR’s additional range – coming in at 4,700nmi.
Over the four days of the Paris Air Show. In order:
- Air Lease Corp
- Middle Eastern Airlines
- Cebu Pacific
- IAG (Iberia/Aer Lingus)
- Indigo Partners (Wizz Air, Frontier and JetSMART)
- American Airlines
These were a mixture of new orders, conversions, letters of intent and memorandums of understanding totalling over 240 commitments.
One design – different segments emerging.
The main changes that make an Airbus A321XLR that sort of plane versus an A321neo or A321LR include:
- The new permanent Rear Centre Tank for more fuel volume;
- Modified landing gear for an increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 101 metric tonnes;
- Optimised wing trailing-edge flap configuration to preserve the same take-off performance and engine thrust requirements as today’s A321neo
With the introduction of a new Rear Centre Tank, it stores more fuel than additional centre tanks did in the A321LR. In the process – it releases space in the cargo hold that can be used more effectively – either as cargo or passenger baggage that will need to be carried on the long haul route (and yes – those previous tanks can be added for those who are range-hungry).
With the new design, a mixture of Low-Cost Carriers and Traditional carriers have emerged to take the design. Let’s take a few wild thoughts on this:
- The people mover – These will be able to pack as many seats as they legally can to fly people at the lowest fare possible. Don’t expect many frills for the long-range flight – with the cabin optimised for a mixture of short and long missions to allow the aircraft to be moved around the fleet (such as Wizzair/Frontier/JetSmart and Cebu Pacific).
- The two/three class long haul service – Or “The 757 Replacement“. With a base range of 4700nm, it easily beating the ageing Boeing 757-200 – itself capable of 3,915nm, it’s an easy fit for those who operate both Boeing and Airbus fleets (or all-Airbus fleets) and who need to replace their older aircraft (eg, American Airlines)
- Those who need more range than a neo/LR – A good case in point is IAG with their order for Aer Lingus (who have A321LR aircraft on order at the moment). Whilst this is suitable for a lot of missions, an extra 700 nautical miles opens up more possibilities on their long haul operations to run “thin and long” services
- Those who are working on totally new services – Those airlines that are considering long haul operation with the A321XLR. Good examples are JetBlue and Qantas
Range is the name of the game
One of the most telling graphics of the Airbus presentation was the possible range you can get out of the A321XLR, along with the city pairings
And there’s a lot to unpack here:
- New York – Rome (which cover the transatlantic use-case which I suspect could be the home of a lot of A321XLR’s)
- Houston – Hawaii – A perfect Frontier Airlines route? Maybe.
- Reykjavik – Houston/Dubai – A perfect case for Icelandair who could use the XLR to boost their Mid-Atlantic base
- Kuala Lumpur – Dubai/Auckland – Perfect for a certain Malaysian based low-cost carrier.
- London – Miami/Dehli – currently the preserve of the large frames, the A321XLR could introduce new traffic flows.
More importantly, the A321XLR could open up more direct long haul flights. Whilst the hub and spoke model isn’t dead by any stretch of the imagination, Point to Point traffic is always a preferred method of travel (unless you’re making your frequent flyer status on segments alone). Indeed, this is done with the 757 who do an odd mix of “Hub and Spoke, with a direct point to point” on the longer and thinner routes
Cabins will be the key differentiator in the A321XLR
Of course, there will be one thing that will be the differentiator in the A321XLR – the cabin interiors. Whilst the main cabins will feature the Airspace by Airbus cabin (that we’ve covered a lot of times on the blog), carriers will have choices in what to install and how to different themselves.
There will be those who will pack them in with the lightest possible seat for the longest flight segments. There will be those who will want to put in premium flat bed products with real long haul economy seats. And there will be those who will pop in what seems best on the day.
There are some innovative products out there that could fit this (such as the Butterfly seat), as well as some stalwarts (Collins Aerospace Diamond).
With the A321XLR formally launched and with over 240 commitments for the type – it was one of the runway successes at the Paris Air Show this year. There’s a fair bit of time between now and the formal entry into service of the type, and I’m sure a lot more details about the A321XLR will sneak out.
With Boeing’s mind focused away from its NMA/Middle of the Market aircraft (with the type not launched at Paris this year), Airbus has the chance to make hay whilst the sun shines on the A321XLR programme – with a relativity known quantity that should be easy to deploy into existing Airbus operator fleets.
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