Should Qantas Choose The Boeing 797 or A321 XLR?

Qantas is looking to upgrade its aging aircraft fleet with the latest technological developments from Boeing and Airbus. They have several key decisions to make, one of which is between the Boeing 797 or the Airbus A321 XLR.

What aircraft is the best and which is better suited for the airline?

Boeing
Boeing 797 vs Airbus A321XLR. Which is best for Qantas?

What is Qantas looking to upgrade?

According to a slide that appeared in a recent Qantas results presentation, Qantas is looking to:

Qantas
Qantas’ plan for new aircraft over the next decade. Source: Qantas

Boeing 797 vs Airbus A321 XLR

Let us start this comparison by comparing each aircraft side by side. You can read a much more detailed analysis here – Boeing 797 vs Airbus A321XLR. As the Boeing 797 and A321 XLR has yet to be confirmed (and even built) by Boeing, all figures are estimated or from rumors.

Boeing 797:

  • Range – 5,000 nmi (9,300 km)
  • Seating – 228 (2-Class) up to 275 (1-class)

The twin-engine twin-aisle aircraft is the next big step for the aviation industry, one that has left the middle of the market behind. It is the spiritual successor to the Boeing 757 and 767.

Airbus A321 XLR

  • Range – 4,700-5000 nmi (8,700 km)
  • Seating – 206 (2-Class) 220 (1-Class)

The Airbus A321 XLR is a derivative of the A321neo, with an emphasis on the additional range.

Both aircraft claim to be incredibly fuel efficient, costing airlines significantly less in fuel over the lifetime of the aircraft.

Which is best for Qantas?

On one hand, the Boeing 797 will be perfect for Sydney to Melbourne domestic travel. This route is one of the densest in the world, with 54,519 flights a year according to traveller.com.au (The busiest is between the island of Jeju to the capital of Seoul in Korea, with 64,991 flights a year).

Perth
Qantas uses a fleet of 737-800 aircraft on their Sydney to Melbourne domestic route. Source: Wikimedia

With a larger capacity than the 737-800s currently flying the route and twin aisles, Qantas will be able to transport more passengers than the competition and offer faster turnarounds than single-aisle aircraft like the Airbus A321 XLR.

But the Airbus A321 XLR comes into its own when looking at price, time to market and being a proven aircraft. The Airbus only costs $115 million USD (and there is no way that Qantas would pay more than 50% of that) and it is currently available to buy.

If Qantas wanted the aircraft now they could potentially have it in the next two years (as opposed over five years for the Boeing 797). Lastly, the 797 has yet to even be built… whilst the A321 XLR is a derivative of an existing aircraft.

Whilst we don’t know for sure what aircraft Qantas will choose, it is likely to be their last choice after all the others and one they will only make once both aircraft have been flying for years.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. 

10 comments
  1. As far as I can see, airlines generally seem to be more charmed by a long-distance narrowbody (such as the A321(X)LR) than a widebody, for the simple reason that the narrowbody can also be efficiently used on shorthaul routes, whereas it’s doubtful how efficient a widebody is in this role. I know there are airlines here and there that use widebodies on short routes, but it seems to be cost-inefficient to do this on a regular basis. To take your Australia example, I can understand how a widebody might be (semi-)economical on a 4-hour flight such as Sydney-Perth, or Melbourne-Darwin, but I can’t see it being efficient on a 1.5 hour flight such as Sydney-Melbourne. In Europe, virtually everyone doing hops up to 4 hours uses narrowbodies…even on very busy routes where an A330 Regional might work, for example.
    But who knows? On the face of it, the A380 should have been a success for Qantas, in view of Australia’s location and relative popularity as a destination; but it didn’t work out. The aviation industry is full of surprises.

  2. Why do you need a medium range plane for a 1.5 hour journey?
    They could easily use a standard A321Neo (or even CEO).
    These are available NOW – the B797 is still just a notion.
    [ IMO, Airbus should make a 3.2m longer version of the A321 with space for 4 more rows of seats – but use the space for more legroom,aiming for 31 – 32″ pitch ].

    1. Something with a little more range would also allow them to service long, thin routes…like Singapore-Cairns, or Bangkok-Darwin, for example. From that point of view, an (X)LR would be more versatile…

      1. NIgel,
        The currently available A321LR is already capable of covering routes such as Singapore-Cairns, or Bangkok-Darwin. The need for the A321XLR is more for covering routes above 8hrs of flight time such as Siem Reap/Ho Chi Minh to Sydney/Melbourne.
        Also, when we talked about versatility, we often assume that a standard A321neo, A321LR and A321XLR are the same plane but in fact they are 3 different planes with different MTOW hence they are also charged different amount of fees at the same airport. Therefore for an airline to optimise their cost, they will avoid deploying the A321LR/XLR on routes within 2500nmi or below 5hrs of flight time because an ordinary A321neo would be lighter, burns less fuel and have lower landing fees compared to the A321XLR.
        The only context of versatility applicable here would be the crew and pilots. An A320 pilot and crew would be able to switch between the A321XLR, A321neo and A320 without any need for additional training and certification. This would likely to be the only advantage the A321XLR has over the B797.

    2. @ James Mahon, I agree, and while they are at it the fuselage width and, therefore, the cabin should be widened another 12 inches or 30 cm to allow for two armrests per seat and four additional inches for the aisle.

  3. The 797 is still just a paper airplane – and now with the 737 Max mess that seems to be continually spiralling out of control, the proposed 2025 entrance date of the 797 seems to be wishful thinking. (…and with a reported $15 Billion cost to Boeing, how many will they have to sell to just break-even. 1500 units, like the 787?)

    If you compare seating and range – the proposed NMA is pretty much a re-done 767, no? Sure, new materials, new engines, better design – but comparable to what airlines have in the 767.

    What about the 757? I think that Boeing made a bad decision to stop the production line – how many 757 Max’s with a 5000 mile range, seating 225-275 could they have sold?

    I think Boeing will rue the day that they decided to shut down the 757’s and re-do the 737. It should have been the other way around.

    1. Frank,
      At that point in time when they decided to shut down the B757, the B737 is selling out at a rate of 10 to 1. When they did shut down the B757, Boeing already had a Y1 in plan as a replacement. What they failed to anticipate was how Airbus was able to pull a fast one with the A320neo. Given that the Y2 (aka B787) did not faced major delays, Boeing would have launched the Y1 in time and it would be Airbus that is catching up this time round.

  4. Boeing 797? Ill take this flights after it has been flying without any disaster for at least 1 year.

  5. It depends both the A321 and A321LR are under powered and don’t have enough wing area. Due to this design the aircraft is forced to fly at lower altitudes where turbulence is normally at it’s worst. In addition, the small wing and lack of power hinder the aircraft’s ability to operate from short runaways. The last proposal from Airbus for the A321 XLR was a similar wing and 33,000 pounds of thrust which still isn’t enough. What Airbus needs is an aircraft similar in performance to that of the Boeing 757. If Airbus could achieve that by redesigning the wing and get engines closer to 40,000 pounds of thrust A321 XLR sales would be off the charts. If Airbus is unwilling to do this then the 797 would be a better option if and when it appears.

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