The Airbus A321XLR: What Routes Could It Open Up?

As Qatar Airways’ CEO yesterday dismissed the A321XLR appearing in its fleet, we see that the aircraft is still very popular and has 379 orders, with 18 airlines and lessors. The A321XLR is especially popular in North America, while relatively unpopular – for now – for European carriers.

The Airbus A321XLR: What Routes Could It Open Up?
American Airlines has ordered 50 A321XLRs. Perhaps these will be used from Miami, among other airports. Image: Airbus.

Qatar Airways’ CEO is adamant that it will not be ordering the A321XLR. Nonetheless, the A321XLR, which launched in 2019, is due to enter service in 2023, with this longer-range variant ultimately designed to do what the A321LR couldn’t: be a real-world B757-200 replacement. Just more modern and fuel-efficient, while flying a higher payload for longer.

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Who has ordered the A321XLR?

There are 379 A321XLR’s on order, according to ch-aviation.com‘s database. Of these, 333 are from 18 airlines, the rest by lessors. Of airline orders, the biggest share – 38% – is from the US, with four airlines ordering it. Meanwhile, Asia, which includes the Middle East, has 109 orders from seven carriers, while Europe as a whole presently expects just one more aircraft than Australia’s Qantas.

  • American Airlines: 50
  • United Airlines: 50
  • Qantas: 36
  • AirAsia: 30
  • Air Arabia: 20
  • VietJet: 20
  • Wizz Air: 20
  • Frontier: 18
  • Saudia: 15
  • JetSMART: 12
  • JetBlue: 11
  • Cebu Pacific: 10
  • flynas: 10
  • SKY Airline: 10
  • Iberia: eight
  • Aer Lingus: six
  • MEA Middle East Airlines: four
  • CSA Czech Airlines: three
The Airbus A321XLR: What Routes Could It Open Up?
Qantas (or really the Qantas Group) has 36 A321XLRs on order. Image: Airbus.

Better economics

Unlike a widebody, the A321XLR will have far fewer seats to fill and therefore airfares could potentially be higher. There could be less discounting in the winter from fewer seats to sell and lower demand, and possibly even higher pricing during the summer.

This is just as well. Trip costs – the cost to fly from A to B – will be substantially lower versus a widebody. Conversely, seat-mile costs and cost per seat will be higher with the A321LR, meaning that the aircraft will need higher fares to break even.

The Airbus A321XLR: What Routes Could It Open Up?
AirAsia X will use the XLR on thinner routes where larger A330s aren’t needed, saving huge amounts of money from much lower trip costs and hopefully achieving higher performance as a result. The type is also likely to be used from places away from its core Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok airports. Image: Airbus.

How could the aircraft be used?

Where and how the A321XLR could be used depends hugely on the configuration that they’re in and, as always, the airports from which they’d operate. Also, the real-world range of the aircraft will be notably lower than what is proposed by Airbus, especially during winter. Still, a rough range of up to around 4,000 nautical miles is likely.

Given this and the need for higher fares versus widebodies, the XLR is most likely to be used:

  • On longer and thinner/niche routes where widebody capacity isn’t needed or possible (also benefiting from a lower trip cost)
  • To boost performance on underperforming long-haul routes
  • On less competitive routes
  • Where there is stronger premium demand
  • Where cargo is less important
  • Where routes can be right-sized in the low season (fewer seats available, increasing seat load factor, better pricing)
  • To right-size on high-frequency services where a particular departure could be replaced by the XLR to help improve performance
The Airbus A321XLR: What Routes Could It Open Up?
Iberia will probably use its XLRs on new routes to South and North America, similar to what TAP Air Portugal has done from Lisbon with LRs. Image: Airbus.

Where could American use its A321XLRs?

American has 50 XLRs on order. Assuming some are based in Miami, which is the US’ second-fastest-growing airport this summer, a whole spectrum of opportunities could exist, perhaps including some of the following in South America.

Miami to…Miami round-trip P2P demand (2019)Wider US/Canada round-trip demand (2019)Potential pool of passengers
Asuncion (ASU)55,000101,000156,000
Port Alegre (POA)47,000127,000174,000
Cordoba (COR)46,00054,000100,000
Curitiba (CWB)44,000127,000171,000
Belo Horizonte (CNF)41,000152,000193,000
Mendoza (MDZ)30,00039,00069,000
Florianopolis (FLN)25,00072,00097,000
Rosario (ROS)24,00024,00048,000
Totals312,000696,0001,008,000

Five of these have been served by American from Miami in the past decade, but perhaps the XLR will enable them to be served once again. Eastern Airlines’ minimal and point-to-point-only service to Ascension and Belo Horizonte would be of very limited concern.

The Airbus A321XLR: What Routes Could It Open Up?
Might American launch, or relaunch, any of these routes from its key Miami hub? Winter winds could be a problem to Dublin (DUB) and Manchester (MAN), likewise the relatively short runway and high elevation at CWB. Image: GCMap.

Particular European airports could perhaps be evaluated too, such as Dublin (53,000 round-trip Miami P2P demand in 2019) and Manchester (26,000). Aer Lingus served Dublin between 2017-2020, while Thomas Cook operated Manchester 2015-2017.

Both would also able to capture wider Florida and Latin America passengers too. In the case of Dublin, that’d be a potential market of over 400,000, booking data obtained from OAG Traffic Analyzer shows.

Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, and Florianopolis – along with Dublin – all had reasonably high fares. They ranged from $453 to $571 one-way, excluding fuel surcharges and taxes.

Are you excited about the Airbus A321XLR? Let us know in the comments!

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