Airbus A321XLR On Track: Will Be Introduced In 2023

Airbus has confirmed it is sticking to its timeline for the entry into service of its highly anticipated A321XLR. The planemaker noted at a briefing today that it will take its first flight next year, with delivery to the first customer in 2023. While MEA will be the product’s launch customer, American Airlines will launch it in the US.

Airbus A321XLR
The Airbus A321XLR will arrive with early operators in 2023. Photo: Airbus

XLR timeline stands firm

Despite the challenges presented by COVID, Airbus’ new long-range narrowbody A321XLR is on track for entry into service in 2023, as expected. The planemaker has already hit some milestones with the project, with its first Center Wing Box completed in April, the first Rear Center Tank just weeks later, and construction of the first prototype beginning at the end of May.

Speaking at a media briefing today, Airbus executives outline the next steps for the A321XLR to get it into service by 2023. The planemaker noted that the aircraft will take its first flight next year, ahead of delivery to customers in 2023.

MEA has the honor of being the launch customer for the type, given that it was the first to firm up an order at the Paris Air Show in 2019. However, American Airlines will be the United States launch customer, and is expecting to receive its first XLR in 2023. Following American, Frontier will put its first A321XLR into service in 2024, followed by United Airlines in 2025.

American A321XLR
American Airlines will be the first to fly the type in the USA. Photo: Airbus

American has been noted to be eyeing the possibility of adding the A321XLR onto transatlantic services. The plane could feature on routes out of Philadelphia into Europe, giving the airline a capable lower-capacity option for international travel as the industry recovers from the crisis of 2020.

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No concerns about certification

In the past, concern has been raised over the safety of the rear center tank on the A321XLR. Notably, a Boeing employee flagged some concerns during the consultation period of the Special Conditions document. Mildred Troegeler, Director of Global Regulatory Strategy at the Boeing Company, highlighted two perceived issues, which she suggested required Special Conditions to be added to the certification of the aircraft.

However, Airbus does not see that there will be an issue with the certification of the XLR. Speaking today, Airbus CCO Christian Scherer noted that there was no concern at either Airbus or its airline customers about the certification process for this aircraft. He said,

“I can tell you there’s no concern out in the marketplace from our operators regarding our ability to certify the XLR and its tank. So, I put it on the account of a maybe slightly provocative and outdated comment by somebody smarter at our competitor. So, no concern there.”

Airbus A321xlr
The Rear Center Tank is not thought to be a certification hurdle. Photo: Airbus

The A321XLR will require additional certification because of its high fuel load, but Airbus does not see this as a major hurdle. At the same briefing, Philippe Mhun, Executive Vice President Programmes & Services, welcomed the need to demonstrate its safety, saying,

“We have certification …. with EASA, with the FAA, which is of course addressing … this rear central tank. Let’s address it. Let’s demonstrate the safety of it. It is a structural tank and structural tanks are flying forever on aircraft … we have to address the latest certification requirement, and that’s fine. We will do so.”

With everything apparently ticking along nicely, Airbus could achieve an on-schedule arrival of its latest aircraft. That’s no mean feat in normal times, but given the challenges that COVID has brought, it’s really very impressive.