On the first day of the Paris Air Show, Airbus launched their latest creation, the world’s longest-range single-aisle aircraft, the Airbus A321XLR.
But what is the Airbus A321XLR, and how does it compare to the A321, A321neo, and the close cousin, A321LR?
History of the A321neo series
Let’s begin at the start of the series, the A321-100.
The A321-100 was the first stretch of the A320 developed by Airbus. Airlines loved the A320, but wanted a version that could carry a few more passengers (230) over the A320’s exit limit of 190. Airbus decided to simply extend the fuselage of the A320 as that would allow the new aircraft to have the same type rating and thus be flyable by airline pilots without retraining.
It first flew for Lufthansa in 1994, but had a reduced range as the longer aircraft did not have a bigger fuel tank to compensate for its increased weight. Only 90 of this type was built.
1996 saw the construction of the A321-200, the same design as the A321-100 but with a larger fuel tank in the rear hold (2,990 L or 790 US gal) to give it a range on par with the A320. Airbus also included slightly more powerful engines to ensure that the aircraft could handle the extra weight. This aircraft would be a direct competitor to the 757-200 and the 737-900.
From here, Airbus continued to refine the design with the A321neo.
The NEO, with its ‘new engine option’, allowed Airbus to reduce fuel burn by 15% and increase the range by 500 nmi. Virgin America would go on to be the first airline to fly the A321neo.
But Airbus started to think about its “fuel-tanks-in-the-rear-hold” idea and summarised that the A321neo could have an even longer range if it had up to three auxiliary fuel tanks. This would push the A321neo’s range to just over 4,000 nautical miles.
During research and further fuel efficiency tests, Airbus was able to confirm that they could push the A321XL up to another 500 nautical miles.
In the end, Airbus revealed a completed design of the A321XLR at the 2019 Paris Air Show. The final numbers: 220 Passengers to a range of 4700 nautical miles (an extra 700 nmi over the original A321XLR). This is accomplished with an additional center forward fuel tank in the passenger hold.
This is an improvement of 15% range from the A321neo to the A321XL to the A321XLR.
How does it compare to other variants?
But, on paper, how do these different aircraft stack up against each other? Is it a constant improvement or do these aircraft need to make compromises to continue their relentless range extensions?
Let’s put them side by side.
- A321neo – 240 passengers in an all-economy configuration up to a range of 3,500 nautical miles.
- A321LR – 220 passengers in an all-economy configuration to a range of 4,100 nautical miles, although some variants or passenger configurations can extend that range up to around 4,500 nautical miles. This is done by including three new fuel tanks in the aircraft’s cargo hold. Each of these auxiliary fuel tanks can hold around 3,121 l (824 US gal) and extend the range by 100 nautical miles each.
- A321XLR – 200 passengers in an all-economy configuration to a range of 4,700 nautical miles. This is achieved with a permanent rear-center cargo fuel tank, which will hold around 12,900 l (3,400 US gal) of fuel. The additional fuel tank of the A321LR can also be fitted to improve the aircraft’s performance. The main landing gear has also been strengthened to better help the aircraft take off and land with this extra weight. Some modifications were also made to the trailing wing-flap to improve performance.
So whilst the aircraft’s range has improved, it’s actual carrying capacity has been reduced with each version. Fewer passengers and greatly reduced cargo room will mean that airlines will need to only use these aircraft on very specific routes. That being said, a smaller capacity aircraft has been designed with profitability in mind, and it is likely that this aircraft will be very lucrative for airlines. This is because it is easier to sell out a smaller plane than a bigger one.
Whether or not there is enough room for a premium product onboard remains to be seen, as with already limited seating numbers, airlines will have to make some tough calls if they want to bring onboard lie-flat seats. But a long-haul aircraft designed to go the distance without a comfortable business product would be rather unheard of.
Who has ‘ordered’ the A321XLR?
So far at the Paris Air Show, the Airbus A321XLR has been very popular. It has won orders from:
- Air Lease Corporation ordered 27 A321XLRs (The also ordered twenty-three other A321neos and fifty A220-300s at the show).
- Middle East Airlines ordered four A321XLRs and requested Airbus to be the launch customer of the type.
- IAG, the owner of British Airways and Iberia, confirmed that they paid a $142 million list price for 28 A321XLRs. They went on to suggest that eight would be for Iberia, six for Aer Lingus, plus 14 options to spread amongst their fleet.
- Qantas will order 36 A321XLR’s, to be operated on routes between Australia and Asia to minor destinations (such as Cairns to Hong Kong that was shut down this year) and wants to also be one of launch customers.
- Indigo Group became a huge customer of Airbus with an order for 50 Airbus A321XLRs. The low-cost-carrier giant has decided to expand its operations across the Pacific and Atlantic, opening routes from USA to Hawaii and Europe. Specifically, they will give 20 A321XLRs to Wizz Air, 18 to Frontier and 12 to JetSmart
- American Airlines followed up with a similar order of 50 Airbus A321XLRs, to replace their fleet of aging 757s.
The A321XLR has quickly become the darling aircraft of the Paris Air Show and will become a weapon of choice for airlines. But how it will affect the sales of the original A321neo and the now awkwardly placed A321LR remains to be seen.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.