Airbus A321neo made the headlines when it outnumbered the 737 MAX 9 in sales by 5:1. Airbus came up with the A321LR which essentially is an A321neo ACF with three additional centre tanks. The A321LR has a range of up to 4000nm with a limited payload. The A321LR opened up new possibilities for airlines as it made long and thin routes economically viable.
Arkia was the first airlines to take delivery of the A321LR. It’s A321LR has 220 seats in an all-economy configuration with a range of 3,300nm. It will launch two new routes to India, Kochi and Goa from Tel Aviv with the A321LR. These routes wouldn’t be economically viable with current widebody aircraft.
While Boeing launched a stretched version of the 737 MAX 9, the 737 MAX 10 at the Paris Airshow in 2017, to compete with the economics offered by the A321neo, it couldn’t compete with the range capabilities of the A321LR. But the A321LR isn’t there yet.
Airlines have started deploying the A321LR on transatlantic routes, like Tap Air Portugal on Porto to New York Newark. Aer Lingus will start transatlantic routes like Dublin to Washington DC, Philadelphia, Newark and Hartford. JetBlue has firmed up plans to launch nonstop flights to London from Boston and New York with the A321LR.
But this is the maximum an A321LR can fly. It gets tough for the A321LR during winter months to operate some nonstop routes over the Atlantic due to an hour increase in flying due to headwinds.
Currently, the 757/767 are a Middle of the Market (MOM) aircraft. But they are ageing, and there is no immediate replacement available in the market. The A321LR capabilities end where the MOM aircraft capabilities start and the current widebodies available in the market 787 and A330neo start where the MOM aircraft capability ends.
Two things are pushing the demand for the Middle of the Market aircraft.
- Low-cost carriers who do not want to invest in expensive widebody aircraft
- Ageing 757s and 767s
Both Airbus and Boeing are weighing the possibilities for a MOM aircraft. Airbus is rumoured to be pitching an A321XLR (Xtra Long Range) aircraft while Boeing is pondering whether to introduce a new plane altogether.
The A321XLR is interesting because of being a continuity in the A320 family. This would mean fleet simplicity, lower costs and so-on for airlines which already operate the A320 family aircraft. The A321XLR is rumoured to have 500nm more range than the A321LR on the backdrop of an increased Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of 101 metric tons from the current 97 metric tons.
This is the reason why several airlines are showing interest in the A321XLR: IAG group (British Airways, Iberia, Vueling), AirAsia, JetBlue, IndiGo, American Airlines and so-on. Both IndiGo and JetBlue are eyeing a push to the European market. The A321XLR fits right in with the routes that they plan on operating as well as their fleet.
IndiGo, for quite some time, has expressed their ambition to fly to London from Delhi. They even secured slots at London Gatwick in Winter 2018 and London Stansted in Summer 2019 but didn’t go ahead with the plan. One of the reasons is IndiGo doesn’t operate any widebody aircraft. IndiGo does have a few A321neo aircraft and has around 145 more on order, but it won’t have the range to operate the route non-stop.
IndiGo also knows that its current product won’t cut the deal, especially on a one-stop journey and narrowbodies are a bit uncomfortable beyond a certain point. They are pondering over whether to introduce a premium cabin or not for longer flights.
|Airline||Configuration||A321LR range||A321XLR range (A321LR range+500nm based on same configuration)|
|TAP Air Portugal||16J+152Y=168 seats||3650nm||4150nm|
|Aer Lingus||16J+168Y=184 seats||3350nm||3850nm|
Well, the range of an aircraft depends on what configuration an airline goes with. If IndiGo goes ahead with a single class configuration like Arkia for the A321XLR, it may have a maximum range of 3800nm. If it goes with a premium configuration like TAP Air Portugal, it may have an extended range of 4150nm. If it goes for even more premium configuration like JetBlue A321 with Mint class (16J+143Y=159 seats), it may get an extended range of 4300nm-4500nm.
|Mumbai-London Stansted||3873nm||Delhi-London Stansted||3612nm|
|Mumbai-Paris CDG||3780nm||Delhi-Paris CDG||3552nm|
As you can see, London and some other routes are a bit of a stretch, but it all depends on the Location of Passenger Accommodations (LoPA). The A321XLR does open up new markets in the mid-haul segment, which IndiGo seems to be targetting. The A321XLR can do wonders for IndiGo if it is launched. IndiGo is anyways rumoured to place a large aircraft order at the Paris Airshow this year.
But it isn’t easy for Airbus. Leeham News has covered extensively in detail the problems that lie with increasing the range of the A321LR by 500nm. The three main issues are smaller wings, smaller fuel tanks and Maximum takeoff weight. It is difficult, but changes can be made to increase the range if Airbus wants to.
But why would Airbus wish to introduce an A321XLR when it can pitch existing aircraft models like the A321LR and the A330neo. The reason is Boeing’s New Midsized Aircraft. Boeing is rumoured to pitch the NMA to airlines as it lost the market to A321neo/LR and as a replacement for the 757/767s.
While Boeing is rumoured to announce the NMA this year, it looks bleak due to the grounding of the 737MAX with no precise re-entry date, issues with the wing components on some 737NG, keeping up with the planned entry of the 777X and some problems with the 787 as well.
Airbus loves to announce big orders and new aircraft at the Paris Airshow, which is its home ground. Let’s see if Airbus will launch the A321XLR at this year’s Paris Airshow since there is nothing concrete from Boeing’s end. If the A321XLR is eventually announced, it won’t enter the market before 2023-24 due to production constraints unless customers swap existing orders for the A321XLR.