In early 2019, Qatar Airways surprised the world and ordered some A321LR aircraft from Airbus. It was not a new order. Rather, Qatar Airways converted part of an existing order. That’s not unusual. Airlines frequently tinker with orders. What caught the eye was Qatar Airways’ interest in a smaller single-aisle plane. After all, Qatar is best known for its fleet of big planes that jet around the world.
Qatar Airways jumps onboard trend towards smaller planes with big capabilities
But, like airlines everywhere, Qatar Airways has recognized the trend towards smaller planes with big capabilities. In January 2019, the airline converted ten of its 50 Airbus A321neos on order to the Airbus A321LR.
“The A321LR will add a new level of flexibility to Qatar Airways’ operations. The aircraft will support the airline to better serve its existing network while equally accessing new long-haul markets with optimal performance and efficiency,” Airbus’ Chief Commercial Officer, Christian Scherer, said at the time.
It seemed Qatar Airways liked the A321LR’s range and per-seat operational costs. Its per-seat operational costs are 30% lower than those of its nearest competitor. A smaller cabin, lower operational costs, and a big range open up a raft of new destinations for Qatar Airways.
The aircraft has a range of 4,000 nmi (7,400 km) and Qatar Airways will use the A321LR to connect Doha to new growing markets where today demand is not sufficient for wide body aircraft or where current narrowbodies (A320/A321) are unable to reach.
Alternatively, the new aircraft will be adopted to provide additional frequencies on existing Qatar Airways routes, giving loyal passengers more choice and flexibility when they travel.
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Qatar Airways A321LR deliveries deferred to 2022
But there has been some water under the bridge since early 2019. By the middle of 2020, the Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, was actively looking to defer deliveries from both Airbus and Boeing. Between firm orders and letters of intent, Qatar Airways had over 200 new aircraft coming into Doha over the next few years.
It was a big influx, even back in booming 2019. By mid-June this year, Akbar Al Baker confirmed he had pushed back deliveries of all planes for up to ten years.
“We have already notified both Boeing and Airbus that we will not be taking any aeroplanes this year or next year,” Akbar Al Baker said to Sky News UK in June.
“And all the other aircraft that we have on order, that were supposed to be delivered to us within the next two or three years, will now be pushed back to as long as nearly eight to 10 years.”
Smaller planes may be the way forward for Qatar Airways
While orders for all aircraft are deferred, the smaller single-aisle planes Qatar Airways wants are head of the queue. After all, 2020 is only accelerating the trend towards smaller planes. Akbar Al Baker is a mercurial character who keeps people guessing. He is now planning to start bringing in the new A321LR aircraft in 2022. They will come in alongside the new A321neos also on order. The airline will swap out older single-aisle planes in their fleet as the new planes come in.
Given Qatar Airways plans to deploy their A321LRs onto long-range flights, Akbar Al Baker promises lots of the traditional Qatar Airways bells and whistles. Those include a business class seat Mr Al Baker reckons will be up there with the QSuite. That will be something to see and experience on a single-aisle aircraft.
2022 is still a while away. However, as we’ve learned this year, a lot can change in a short time. Whether all the big planes Qatar Airways has on order ever end up landing in Doha is debatable. But the trend towards smaller planes with big ranges makes it reasonably likely we will be seeing A321LRs flying in Qatar Airways livery sometime soon.