At the last Dubai Air Show, which was held in 2019, Air Arabia placed a sizeable order for a total of 120 Airbus A320 family aircraft. At more than $14 billion list price, this was a large investment from the Middle Eastern low-cost giant and was split between the A320neo, the A321neo, and the A321XLR.
While the standard range A320neo family aircraft are highly competent, efficient jets, the addition of the small amount of A321XLR was an interesting point. What was in the mind of the airline when it was placing this order for this type? Simple Flying caught up with Adel Ali, CEO of Air Arabia, to find out more about his plans for the aircraft.
No change for Air Arabia
Nobody would hold it against any airline for changing order backlogs or adjusting delivery timescales, taking into account the difficult couple of years that have just passed. But Air Arabia has done nothing of the sort, keeping the order book intact and maintaining the split between aircraft types.
When asked if he was looking forward to the arrival of the A321XLR, Mr Ali replied
“I guess, I am, it’s a new aeroplane. I’m not in a race to be the launch customer of any airplanes. So let’s see how they perform. But for all the things we’ve seen here, it is going to be a fantastic piece of equipment.”
Our interview was conducted from the exit row of Air Arabia’s stunning A321LR aircraft at the Dubai Airshow. It’s an impressive aircraft, generous in legroom (even in the non-exit row seats) and with a pallet of colors and fabrics that belie the low-cost roots of the airline. It’s clear Mr Ali is proud of the product he has invested in.
Where will the XLR’s fly?
Air Arabia’s 20 A321XLRs could be placed at any of its bases – Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Casablanca, Alexandria, or Abu Dhabi. Air Arabia is also in the process of launching joint venture subsidiaries in both Pakistan and Armenia, and given that the XLRs won’t start arriving until 2024 or later, there could be opportunities to station some of the fleet in those hubs too.
With a range of 4,700NM, the XLR adds about another hour of flying onto Air Arabia’s potential routes. The Air Arabia family already flies to more than 170 destinations in 50 countries, or did pre-COVID, but will undoubtedly be eyeing new destinations with the extra legs provided by the A321XLR. Western Europe could be an interesting choice.
From Sharjah, the airline has already reached as far west as Sarajevo, and could go further with the A321LR. London is just about doable from Sharjah in the long-range Airbus, but the XLR could comfortably make the trip. Ali noted,
“This one (the LR) would get there, just about. But for the XLR, easy stuff. I think eight and a half hours should be no issue. London is about seven.”
When asked if London would be a key target for the XLR out of Sharjah, Ali quipped,
“I usually only plan three months ahead.”
A direct link from London to Sharjah could be a popular choice, but for now we’ll have to wait and see.
Engines still to be decided
Unusually, Air Arabia’s Airbus order was placed without a commitment for any engine type. With deliveries not starting until 2024, that’s not entirely unusual. Ali suggested that a decision on the supplier for the future fleet would be reached soon. He said,
“That’s something that we currently looking at very closely. We have a meeting up with both CFMI and Pratt and Whitney. We are in discussions. Hopefully, by the end of this year or the beginning of next year, we should be able to make that decision.”
At present, all Air Arabia’s A320ceo aircraft are powered by the CFM International engines. Its A321neos are also powered by the same supplier. It would be unusual to see a switch, but it’s not unheard of and would be a big win for either manufacturer.