The A321neo Is The Real Gamechanger For A ULCC

While Ryanair would argue that the 737 MAX 8-200 is the gamechanger aircraft for the low-cost sector, rival Wizz Air would beg to differ. The Wizz strategy is all about the A321neo, and its CCO believes that this is the true gamechanger aircraft for the ultra-low-cost airline of today.

Wizz Air believes the A321neo is the real gamechanger. Photo: Wizz Air

The gamechanger aircraft

The term gamechanger seems to be bandied about with some regularity these days. While the word has been used to describe everything from new seating products to breakthroughs in COVID testing technology, the most prolific use of the concept has undoubtedly been from outspoken Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary.

Since placing the order for his unique 737 MAX 8-200, he has referred to the aircraft as ‘the gamechanger.’ With better fuel efficiency, lower carbon emissions and, above all, a higher passenger capacity than any other Ryanair plane, the Irish aviation veteran believes it will set his airline apart in the low-cost market.

While it’s clear to see the benefits that the move to the MAX will make for Ryanair, another European low-cost airline begs to differ. Chief Commercial Officer of the Wizz Air Group, George Michalopoulos, says that the A321neo is the real gamechanger for the low-cost environment.

Wizz Air receives A321neo
Wizz Air received the first of its A321neos in March 2019. Photo: Airbus

The real gamechanger

Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying, Michalopoulos explained the clear benefit of operating the largest Airbus narrowbody compared to the MAX that Ryanair has bet on. He said,

“I think the key is the number of seats onboard. We get 239 seats on the A321neo versus Ryanair, which gets 197 on their MAX. That’s 22% more seats. And I can guarantee you that the trip cost difference is not 22%. it’s significantly lower.”

Wizz is not the only low-cost carrier betting on the A321neo for its exemplary operating performance. Icelandic startup PLAY has also plumped for the large narrowbody to launch its own operations. The CEO previously told Simple Flying that it was the perfect aircraft for the airline’s needs, although he did float the idea of mixing it up with the A320neo at some point in the future.

Play, Berlin Brandenburg Airport, First Flight
PLAY has also bet on the A321neo for its operations. Photo: Berlin Brandenburg Airport

For Wizz, the A321neo has enabled it to up gauge services on the highest demand routes. It has allowed it to sell more seats, at a marginally increased trip cost over smaller aircraft. This, coupled with Wizz Air’s incredibly efficient operational standards, has driven it to become the greenest and lowest-cost airline in Europe.

And it’s set to amplify this status in the coming years, with more than 200 A321neos still awaiting delivery, some of which will be the long-range A321XLR. Over the coming years, the A321 will become the backbone of the Wizz Air fleet, letting it scale up from the A320 and maximize its profitability for the future.

Wizz Air’s initial A321neo
More than 200 additional A321neos are set to arrive at Wizz in the coming years. Photo: Airbus

Engine technology

As well as the high capacity offered by the A321neo, Michalopoulos sang the praises of the engine technology onboard the Wizz aircraft. He noted,

“I think the other thing with the neo is also the engines; the new Pratt engines. These are new technology, which are more efficient and have lower fuel consumption. So, these two factors really make the A321neo a gamechanger aircraft for a ULCC.”

Pratt & Whitney GTF engine entered service in 2016, promising a reduction in fuel burn and carbon emissions by up to 20%, and it has lived up to that claim. The company said today that it has already saved half a billion gallons of fuel and five million tonnes of carbon emissions through the use of the engines in flight. Geoff Hunt, senior vice president of engineering and technology at Pratt & Whitney, said,

“The GTF engine family has proven to be the most environmentally sustainable powerplant for the current generation of single-aisle aircraft. At Pratt & Whitney, we’re working towards becoming the best aerospace company for the world and with the revolutionary GTF engine family, we’re just getting started.”

Pratt & Whitney’s GTF engines have clocked up more than 10 million flight hours. Photo: Pratt & Whitney

Pratt & Whitney is keen to make the GTF even greener. It is exploring options including higher bypass ratios, more advanced materials and hybrid-electric configurations. It is working with industry regulatory authorities to enable the engine to run on 100% sustainable fuel in the future too.

The Pratt & Whitney GTF is used on the A320neo family of jets, as well as the A220 and Embraer E2 jets. To date, these powerplants have accumulated more than 10 million engine flight hours across 54 airlines carrying more than 370 million passengers.