TAP Air Portugal’s Transatlantic Advantage: The Airbus A321LR

In April 2019, TAP Air Portugal took delivery of its first Airbus A321LR. This plane has been pushing the limits of long-haul travel for a single-aisle jet in the current era. Simple Flying this week spoke with Ricardo Dinis, TAP’s Sales Director for UK, Ireland and the Nordics, about how the narrowbody gives his company a competitive advantage across the Atlantic Ocean.

TAP Air Portugal Airbus A321 (2)
The Airbus A321LR has a maximum range of 4,000 NM (7,400 km), opening up several opportunities for airlines. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A timely renewal

Over the last half a decade, TAP Air Portugal has been made significant changes to its fleet. While several carriers were forced to adapt amid the global health crisis, TAP had already overhauled its fleet to be fit for the current climate.

The A321LR is a core feature of this fleet change, with TAP presently holding eight units within its holdings. The flag carrier of Portugal has been making the most of these units, deploying them on several key routes.

Narrowbodies are usually found on short and medium-haul routes. However, over the last few years, airlines are gaining confidence to deploy them on longer journeys due to the capabilities that planes such as the A321LR bring.

The A321LR has shown its value during its tenure with TAP. In March, it took a 10-hour across Africa. The plane started in Maputo, Mozambique, on the East Coast of the continent, to fly to Praia, Cape Verde, in the Atlantic Ocean.

TAP’s A321LRs are configured with 171 seats, split between 16 full-flat business, 48 eco premium, and 107 economy seats. Photo: Airbus

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The right position

TAP’s base of Lisbon is geographically located at the tip of Europe. So, from there, it can reach the Northeast of Brazil and the East Coast of the United States with the A321LR. The combination of the airline’s plane and position puts it in a unique situation compared to several of its rivals.

In recent weeks, TAP’s A321LRs have been spotted in several Brazilian cities, such as Recife, Maceió, Fortaleza, and Belém. In North America, they have traveled to the likes of Washington Dulles, Montreal, Newark, and Boston.

The operator also deploys its A330neos well on its transatlantic network. However, these widebodies may not always be able to be filled due to the nature of the industry. Seasonal changes and government restrictions can impact demand on certain routes. Therefore, with a smaller replacement on standby, TAP can be agile, no matter what the circumstances are.

“The A321LR allows us to fly with smaller aircraft when we don’t have as much traffic in periods such as the winter. So, we can keep the same number of flights with fewer seats,” Dinis told Simple Flying.

“There is a flexibility in the fleet that allows us to play with the aircraft when we need them. When we have traffic we use the bigger one, if not, we will use the smaller one. With an airline, flexibility is very important.”

From fuel savings to load factor boosting, There are numerous benefits to be had with the Airbus A321LR. Photo: Airbus

Broader benefits

TAP also takes advantage of the fuel efficiency benefits to be had. The A321LR combines well with the A330neo, which first arrived at TAP’s facilities only in 2018. The A321LR brings a 20% fuel burn reduction compared to previous generation planes, while the A330neo brings a 25% due reduction in the widebody space. Altogether, the pair offer modern efficiency solutions for the airline

So, better fleet flexibility and fuel efficiency are both on the books for TAP. Therefore, overall transatlantic operations are far more effective across the board in the current era.

Dinis concludes that the response to the A321LR has been great. Passengers are impressed by the fresh aircraft, enjoying the comfort of the cabin and the quiet experience. Overall, it’s so far so good for TAP and the A321LR as passenger acceptance has been excellent.

While these planes are primarily deployed across the Atlantic, the A321s have also made trips to several other destinations. In Africa, they have been spotted in Lomé, Acca, and São Tomé recently. The planes have also made short-haul trips to the likes of Barcelona and Madrid.

The A321LR is fitted with the notably efficient LEAP-1A engine Photo: Airbus

Modern solutions

It’s not only in the transatlantic space where TAP is proud of its efficient fleet. The airline had been taking on new Embraer E190 family aircraft since May 2016. These jets have been designated to regional subsidiary TAP Express. They are being deployed across Europe and can reach numerous destinations on the content within three to four hours. The carrier’s passengers have also been full of praise for this regional jet’s comfort.

Aged aircraft such as the Airbus A340-300 used to handle the bread and butter of the transatlantic operations, including flights to the likes of Belém. However, the quadjet has now been replaced by the A330neo, with the A321LR filling in where it can.

Ultimately, despite having nearly 100 planes in its fleet, TAP has a well-balanced, streamlined fleet. The ATR 72 turboprops handle TAP Express’ short-haul affairs, the E190s serve well across Europe, the A330neo powers the bulk of the long-haul missions, and the A320 family jets cover all angles.

TAP A330neo
TAP Air Portugal holds 19 Airbus A330neo aircraft in its fleet, with the latest one joining the fold in December 2019. Photo: Airbus

TAP has been adding new long-haul routes to his network recently. Cancun, Mexico and Punta Cana, Dominican are two 2021 destination inaugurations. It won’t be a surprise to see more long-distance itineraries being introduced amid the need to adapt. So, the A321LR could be a feature on additional routes this decade.

JetBlue has been grabbing the headlines recently with its narrowbody routes across the Atlantic. However, airlines will also be keeping an eye on TAP’s progressions in this field.

What are your thoughts about TAP Air Portugal’s Airbus A321LR aircraft? What do you make of the overall prospects of the type’s operations this decade? Let us know what you think of the jet and its services across in the industry in the comment section.