The aviation gamechanger of 2019, the A321XLR, may not sell quite as quickly as Airbus had anticipated. With longer-range markets predicted to remain contracted over the next few years, it may be a while before the orders start coming in again. However, in the time between its launch in June last year and then when the crisis hit, the extra-long-range update of the A321neo was quite the hit with enthusiastic customers.
New route segment
The aircraft has a range of 4,700 nm (8,700 km), which is 15% more than the long-range version of the A321neo and the longest of any single-aisle aircraft ever. With it, Airbus has created a new medium-to-long-haul single-aisle segment, which in turn will open up new route possibilities. The plane can seat between 175 to 244 passengers, depending on the configuration.
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It can operate efficiently on routes across continents. For example, it can connect South Asia with Europe, the Middle East with South Africa, or the south part of North America with Argentina and Chile. This has made it an order hit with low-cost carriers that are looking to expand their horizons without going the Norwegian Air route with a fleet of difficult to fill long-haul widebody aircraft.
However, not only low-cost airlines are interested in launching new direct routes between smaller cities, or ones that could potentially feed into larger hubs. Several legacy carriers were also quick out of the gate for the order books upon the model’s launch.
As of now, 22 airlines and two leasing companies have placed orders for over 450 of the new, potentially industry-altering, jet. Let’s take a look at who they are.
One of the first customers for the A321XLR is also one of its largest to date. The new model was launched at the Paris Air Show on June 17th a little over a year ago, and before the end of the event, American Airlines had ordered no less than 50. Granted, 30 of those were converted from already existing orders for the A321neo, but still.
The initial delivery schedule was set for eight aircraft in 2023, 22 in 2024, and 20 in 2025. An ambitious timetable to begin with, it is unclear how the present circumstances will affect production or deferrals.
American’s goal, at least at the time of purchase, was to operate the A321XLR from the East Coast of the US to medium-sized destinations in Europe.
United has also ordered 50 of the updated jetliner. The order was placed in December 2019, and the carrier is meant to start taking delivery of the aircraft in 2024. The order is part of United’s replacement of its on average 23-year-old Boeing 757-200 fleet of 40 planes.
American’s rival also intends to use the model to launch an expansion of its transatlantic routes from New York and Washington DC.
“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network,” Andrew Nocella, Chief Commercial Officer for United said at the time, in a statement seen by Simple Flying.
Next in order size is Qantas. Also striking a deal at the Paris Air Show last year, the Australian flag-carrier placed ten new orders and converted another 26 from a prior commitment. While the airline has since announced deferrals of some orders, this does not apply to the new XLR. Thus far, the original delivery scheme for 2024 and a couple of years onwards still stands.
“It can fly routes like Cairns-Tokyo or Melbourne-Singapore, which existing narrowbodies can’t, and that changes the economics of lots of potential routes into Asia to make them not just physically possible but financially attractive,” Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said in a statement to Reuters.
Struggling Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia X also has 30 of the A321XLR on order since August last year. While it has asked to defer delivery of 78 of another middle-of-the-market jet, the A330neo, of which it is Airbus’ largest customer. No mention has yet been made of the A321XLRs.
Up-and-coming Hungarian budget airline Wizz Air is expanding, not only bases and routes but also fleet and range. The carrier has 20 of the A321XLR on order. They are scheduled for delivery from 2023 onwards, and Wizz intends to fly them on new routes with seven to eight hours of flight time, as well as operate them on existing services. The cabin will have a 239 seat configuration to correspond to Wizz’s A321neos.
Air Arabia placed an order for a full 120 aircraft from Airbus at the Dubai Air Show in November last year. Among them were 20 orders for the new A321XLR. The reach of the new model will allow the Emirati low-cost carrier to reach destinations in Asia, Europe, Africa, and even parts of South and North America.
Another South East Asian carrier wanting to try its wings on the mid-to-long-range market is Vietnamese VietJet. The airline has a firm order for 15 of the A321XLR and is, or was, in November last year, planning to operate them on routes to Australia.
Frontier and JetBlue
US low-cost carriers Frontier and JetBlue have ordered 18 and 13 of the jet, respectively. The former converted existing orders for the A320neo family and intends to deploy the new jets on coast to coast services as well as explore international and Hawaiian routes. Frontier’s first A321XLR is scheduled for delivery in 2024.
JetBlue also converted 13 existing orders for other narrowbody aircraft. The New York-based airline intends to use it to expand its transatlantic capacity from its focus cities Boston and New York.
“The incredible extended range of the A321XLR allows us to evaluate even more overseas destinations as we think about JetBlue’s expansion into European markets plagued by high premium fares and subpar service,” Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue said in June last year.
SKY Airline and JetSMART
Santiago-based low-cost carrier SKY Airline has ordered ten A321XLR. The new range/financial ratio will allow Chile’s second-largest airline to expand to destinations in North America.
Its ultra-low-cost compatriot and competitor JetSMART is down for 13, most likely with the same intention.
Ten or under
Back on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Cebu Pacific has also ordered ten of the aircraft. In the Middle East, Flynas is set to take another ten, and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, one of the A321XLR’s launch customers, will take delivery of four. IAG has ordered eight for Iberia, and six for Aer Lingus. Czech Airlines swapped an order for seven A320neos to the extra long-range model.
While the near future for all things aviation-related remains highly uncertain, Airbus recently stated that its plans to have the jet ready in 2023 remain unchanged. Let us hope that the airlines will get to welcome the new members of their fleets without too much delay. And that they will all be around to do so.