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.

A321neo
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
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!

13 comments
  1. I think the A321XLR will give Boeing a nasty headache. Although a widebody NMA might offer passengers more comfort, a narrowbody XLR offers an airline greater flexibility, since it can be deployed on a greater variety of routes (including relatively short domestic/regional). It also makes it easier to play with flight frequency (e.g. as a function of high season / low season), and is perfect for thin routes. The XLR may not kill the entire NMA concept, but it may dent it enough to stop NMA from ever being a commercially viable project.
    Even if an airline orders an XLR without converting a previous regular NEO order, the XLR will still probably be delivered earlier than the NMA.

  2. I think the 797 is going to be hit from both sides; the A321XLR which can effectively be available to some operators immediately by upgrading their existing A321NEO orders, and the A330NEO which can cater for the twin-aisle market by offering a more comfortable option with greater range. The appeal will be limited to a narrow niche of operators, and its only realistic selling point will be any efficiency gains.

  3. I think Boeing’s next project should be a replacement for the 737, that could easily cover the lower-end of the NMA’s scope, like Airbus’s A320 program is proving to be with the A321XLR.

  4. let Boeing build the 797 and forget the 737 MAX…..this the only way to cover all the shame and get back their passenger trust…

  5. Airbus will tinker with the the A320neo for a few years and chip away at Boeing…Boeing needs to resize the 797 and replace the 737..otherwise Airbus will slaughter them..Airbus will then build the A220-500 and eventually replace the A320neo with a successor..NMA is a distraction for Boeing

  6. American, United and Delta all operate ageing 757’s configured for international routes, and now that JetBlue have announced transatlantic services, Airbus are in a really strong position with the A321XLR with an aircraft that can outperform the 757, open up new routes with the extra range and will be available before Boeing’s NMA. Boeing will have to offer something really special with the NMA to deter US customers from ordering Airbus… Otherwise it’s going to be an expensive investment for Boeing to develop an entire clean-sheet design when the market isn’t large enough to break even, having been bitten away by the A321XLR…

  7. OK. Although I know the proposed XLR will have aerodynamic improvements, it still has to carry a ton of extra gas to achieve the range promise. So it will be baggage or cargo limited on long flights, and won’t be that efficient with the extra weight of all that fuel, not to mention cramped seating. If Boeing does 797 right, with the advanced manufacturing techniques that sold the T-X military trainer and quicker twin-aisle turnarounds, plus efficient aerodynamics and minimal maintenance requirements, it will kill the XLR after its initial rush of sales. Plus, I believe many initial XLR sales will be conversions of A321neo orders.

    1. The faster turnarounds are going to be appealing. Is it just me, or have people recently forgot how to board an aircraft. It takes them way to long to stick their bag in the bin and sit down. On a recent flight, I had a purser say over the intercom “. Let’s pretend like we’ve all done this before. Please store your carry on and sit down as quickly as possible.” It was the last flight, and I think she was tired, but I agreed 100%.

  8. Airbus needs to increase its production in its Mobile,Alabama site.
    I think the A321 XLR will be very successful with American Carriers.

  9. I’m still not convinced by Boeing’s claim that the NMA will be here by 2025. The 777X was first spoken of in 2012, and offered for sale in 2013. It’s halfway through 2019 and the plane (basically new wings and engines on a lengthened existing platform) is already set to be delayed.
    And now they expect they will have a new plane, using new materials, new manufacturing technologies, new engines (which no one has as of yet) and even possibly a new business model (that brings in BGS to counter lower price with after-sales services) built, tested and certified in 5 years? In which universe? the MCU?

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