Could The Airbus A321XLR Hurt Boeing NMA’s Potential?

Airbus might be just about to pull the rug out from under Boeing. The Airbus A321XLR is expected to be announced at the Paris Air Show next week, and clearly targets customers who might have bought the Boeing 797.

Low speed turn off take-off of Airbus testbed A321neo at Toulouse. Photo: Wikimedia

This echos a similar scenario to the 2011 Paris Air Show, when Airbus managed to undercut Boeing and secure a massive order of new aircraft from American Airlines. This caused Boeing to return to the drawing board to rebuild the 737 into the MAX we know today.

What is the A321XLR?

The Airbus A321XLR is a special derivative of the Airbus A321neo that has traded passenger capacity for range. It is a comparable aircraft to the Boeing 757 that finished production a decade ago but is still in use by many airlines today.

If we compared the A321XLR to the 797 side by side:

  • Airbus A321XLR can carry 206 passengers to a range of 5,000 nmi (9,300 km)
  • Boeing 797 can carry up to 270 passengers to a range of 5,000 nmi (9,300 km).

Now, the Boeing 797 has several advantages over the A321XLR, such as a twin-aisle design (allowing quick boarding and disembarkation), 50 more passengers and the fuel-saving technologies that have made the Boeing 787 Dreamliner so successful.

We have compared the Airbus A321XLR vs Boeing 797 previously.

Boeing 797 vs Airbus A321XLR. Photo: Simple Flying

But the A321XLR is available now for airlines to consider, based on a real aircraft that has been proven in the marketplace. It could feasibly be built fairly rapidly, with engineers working on a design apparently only 200 nautical miles away from their goal. The Boeing 797 is more than four or five years away, which in the cutthroat world of aviation is a very long time.

Who is interested in this aircraft so far?

For Boeing, the list of airlines that is interested in the A321XLR is worryingly influential.

IAG, owners of Iberia and British Airways has come out of the gate stating that they are interested in the A321XLR, according to Arabian Business. Additionally, independent airline Jetblue and Indian IndiGo have both said they would consider ordering the aircraft.

But the real prize here is American Airlines. If Airbus can get a major American carrier to place a large order of the aircraft, it would instantly move the new A321XLR onto the must-have miracle aircraft pedestal, shared in the past by aircraft like the Boeing 737 and 747.

Qantas To Retire All Boeing 747's In The Next 18 Months
The Boeing 747 was a game changer when it was built. Source: Qantas

Will the A321XLR affect 797 sales?

There is one hiccup with the A321XLR dream… there is not enough Airbus capacity to build the aircraft right now. The only way that an airline could get their hands on the plane before 2024-25 would be if they converted existing A321neo orders into the XLR version.

For American, this would be easy, as they have around 90 A321neo orders still unfulfilled. If they do chomp at the bit, Airbus will slide into the upper hand position in the middle of the market fight.

Let’s not forget that Boeing has its attention divided right now, between the horrible MAX crisis (which the aircraft are still grounded) and the soon-to-be-flown Boeing 777X aircraft. They may have dropped the ball and be unprepared for activities from Airbus at the Paris Air Show next week.

Will this rise from Airbus cause Boeing to scrap 797 plans and return to the drawing board as they did back in 2011? Or are these rumors just ripples in Boeing’s unstoppable wake?

Let us know in the comments what you think!