More news is coming from the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Seoul as JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes talks interest in the Airbus A321XLR. Reuters is reporting that the JetBlue leader is “studying the A321XLR”, which would be necessary for transatlantic flights further into continental Europe from the US East Coast.
Currently, the airline has 85 A321neo aircraft on order (more details below). However, these planes don’t have the reach that the airline desires for destinations further than London, which is their current target. As Hayes said in a meeting:
“London is the biggest opportunity because it has the highest fares, but there would be other opportunities if we had an airplane that had more range. The XLR gives us more range…”
Hayes spoke about the benefits of having a narrowbody aircraft that could go the distance, including risk-management during the low-season:
“The transatlantic market is very seasonal. In the summer you tend to do very well but in the winter you’re flying a bunch of empty seats, so the LR helps us manage significantly the risk of the winter because we’re not flying such an expensive airplane.”
No additional planes
Despite the prospect of taking on this additional variant – the XLR – Hayes made it clear that any purchases would convert from existing orders instead of placing a new one:
“We’re still working through how many aircraft it would be (but) any XLRs would be linked to the planes we have on order today,”
According to FlightGlobal, JetBlue first added the option to convert some A321neo orders to the A321LR almost two years ago. At that same time an announcement was made for an order of 30 more A321s. Of this order, 15 would be of the ‘neo’ variant and 15 of the ‘ceo’ variant.
With 85 A321neos on order, JetBlue made the decision to convert 13 of those to the A321LR as of April 2019. This has left the airline with orders for 72 A321neos. It will be interesting to see if the carrier converts their A321LR order the XLR or if the shift comes from the base A321neo orders.
Simple Flying reached out to JetBlue for comment. They said,
“We are always talking to various manufacturers about aircraft. We have been studying the potential of an XLR but we haven’t made any decisions. It’s too early to get into specifics but anything that extends the capability of the A321LR further would be of interest to us, and we continue to maintain flexibility in our order book.”
About the A321XLR
The XLR variant of the Airbus A321 is anticipated to have the ability to travel over 4,000nmi with 220 passengers. This is due to wing and weight upgrades over its predecessors.
No formal announcement has come from Airbus yet. However, many are anticipating that they will make the official announcement on the A321XLR at the upcoming Paris Air Show, taking place 17-23 June at Le Bourget airport.
According to sources speaking with Reuters, AirAsia is also reportedly in talks with Airbus regarding the A321XLR. Furthermore the CEO of IAG, Willie Walsh, made remarks recently that an extended version of an A321LR would be ‘very interesting’ for the group, saying it would fit well for airlines like Aer Lingus and Iberia – and potentially attractive to BA and Level too.
The announcement and launch of the A321XLR certainly opens up new routes and markets. But will passengers put up with such long flight times and distances in a single-aisle aircraft? How far would you be willing to fly in a narrowbody plane like the A321?
We’ve reached out to JetBlue for additional comment but have not received a response before publication of this article.