Will The Airbus A321XLR Change Boeing’s NMA Plans?

Due to the absence of any worthwhile competition at the Paris Air Show, Airbus has swept the middle-of-the-market trophy table. Sources claim the European manufacturer has 200 pending orders for its new A321XLR, and Boeing is nowhere in sight.

Airbus A321XLR concept in flight
The A321XLR takes flight over Paris (not aircraft shown). Photo: Airbus press release.

The absence of Boeing’s NMA (dubbed the B797) on the opening day of the event at Paris-Le Bourget surprised few in the know.

The company has been battered by various headwinds this year. The ongoing battle for re-certification of the B737 MAX has been both costly and disruptive. And mechanical faults of the B777X have led to a significant stall in the company’s overall productivity.

Boeing had hoped to align the end of the B777X development with a more full-on cultivation of the 797. But earlier this year, GE Aviation found “unexpected wear” in a part for the GE9X engine. The discovery led to a delay of several months while the part is redesigned and tested.

According to Aero Time News Hub, President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Kevin McAllister admitted there would be no announcement in respect of the Boeing “797” during this year’s show, although its entry into service is still scheduled for 2025.


Airbus now looks likely to achieve its goal of ruining Boeing’s plans for market domination of the twin-aisle, middle-of-the-market long range airliner. The A321XLR offers profitable middle-to-long-distance routes, such as those between Europe and the U.S. as well as Japan and Australia. Routes that may well have fallen to Boeing’s NMA.

Infographic of A321XLR
XLR is a “very effective airplane for many of the same routes as the NMA”. Photo: Airbus press release

It [the XLR] does provide a very effective airplane for many of the same routes as the NMA, and it does so many years earlier,” Air Lease CEO John Plueger told Reuters.

Airbus’s XLR will be the longest-range narrow-body jet liner ever built. Its design was born from the desire of airlines across the world to maximize the efficiency and distance-flexibility of single-aisle aircraft. It has a range of up to 4,700 nautical miles, which is about 15% more than the previous A321LR.

Those sorts of numbers bring the XLR to bear on routes occupied by the more expensive and thirstier wide-body jets.

First customers

Today, leasing company Air Lease Corp announced their intention to be the first customer of the new aircraft. The American firm has, according to Reuters, placed an initial order for 27 as part of a deal for 100 of the type.

Airbus A321XLR sold to Air Lease Corp
American Air Lease Corp buys first of the type. Photo: Airbus press release

Airbus is expected to announce close to 200 orders for the new model by the end of the event. Among the buyers are JetBlue Airways Corp and U.S. firm Indigo Partners. Last week we speculated that Iberia and British Airways would also be interested in buying the XLR.

The aerospace industry’s biggest annual event is the epicenter of major aircraft sales. In 2017, over the course of seven days, there were there were over 1,200 orders made and commitments given including 352 firm orders and almost 700 memoranda of understanding.

Too late for the Boeing’s NMA?

Boeing has invested $15bn in its conceptual New Midsize Airplane (NMA). The company expected orders of the composite twin-aisle jet to be somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 aircraft. But Boeing’s battle for the re-accreditation of the 737 MAX has since taken center stage, and as such, forecasts have changed.

Furthermore, Boeing had hoped to push through development and production of the NMA as soon as the 777X was flyable. But problems associated with the engines of the B777X blighted the company’s progress.

Boeing’s commercial boss Kevin McAllister told Reuters he was “staying very close to the situation” with the GE9X engine, and that it was premature to make any predictions on delays of the 777X program.

Airbus A321XLR concept in flight
A321XLR eating into range division targeted by Boeing’s non-existent B797. Photo: Airbus press release

Meanwhile the A321XLR has already begun to eat into the range division targeted by Boeing’s non-existent B797.

Boeing’s Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg was nevertheless sanguine about the future of the NMA. At a news conference on Sunday he said the A321XLR would only “scratch an edge” of the market segment targeted by the NMA.

He also told Reuters that Boeing expected to announce orders for wide-body jets at the Paris Air Show, but that its main focus at the moment was damage limitation, “with executives taking turns to apologise for the 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people.”