This article was written by and first published on RDC Aviation, here.

The term ‘game changer’ has become a marketing buzzword of our time and is thrown around so often on corporate literature that it has become so diluted it is often ignored. Take the aviation industry, for example, where technological advances can actually truly deliver a step change in result. The term has been used to describe both the Boeing 787 and Bombardier CSeries, but neither has yet truly delivered on their potential.

While its orderbook will show the Dreamliner has been a commercial success, it was originally born as a ‘hub buster’ by Boeing to offer point-to-point connections and bypass the world’s big hubs. It may have delivered a number of new city pair routes as per the Boeing prophecy, but has mainly settled into markets feeding the hubs of its airline customers. Similarly, despite all its potential, the CSeries is currently only in commercial operation with three airlines.

So, is all this talk about the new long-range (LR) variant of the single-aisle Airbus A321neo changing the way airlines approach medium- and long-haul flying really a ‘gamechanger’ as the manufacturer claims, nor once again just some fancy words on a press release and promotional video?

As the first prototype aircraft has only just taken to the air it is certainly far too early to make any assumptions. On paper the aircraft certainly has the credentials, and a convenient deployment by WOW air of one of its standard A321neos on its scheduled route between Reykjavik and Los Angeles around the time of its first flight clearly shows it will have the endurance, albeit in this case with multiple rows of seats blocked out on the basic variant.

The A321neoLR accommodates the baseline programme changes adopted by the A321neo but adds further customised solutions to boost the aircraft’s range to around 7,400 kilometres (4,000 nautical miles) and deliver true long-range capability. The aircraft could allow new links to be established across Asia-Pacific markets as highlighted recently by Jetstar Airways, and new trans-Atlantic city pairs not currently accessible with current single-aisle aircraft as described by Norwegian.

“It’s a real gamechanger because it combines the super efficiency of the single aisle segment with the capabilities of the widebody segment, while combining seat fuel burn with range capability and comfort,” explains Klaus Roewe, head of the A320 Programme at Airbus.

Airbus has already secured more than 1,900 orders for the A321neo from over 50 customers.  There are more than 115 firm commitments for the ‘LR’ version with confirmed customers including Aer Lingus, Air Arabia, Air Astana, Air Transat, Azores Airlines, Jetstar Airways, Norwegian, Primera Air, TAP Air Portugal and lessor Air Lease Corporation (ALC).

Looking at RDC’s unique data we can get a better idea of the cost and operational benefits the A321neoLR will deliver to airline customers. Taking the example of Aer Lingus, which has committed to lease eight aircraft from ALC, the aircraft could be used on a variety of missions from introducing brand new transatlantic city pairs to delivering frequency growth in existing markets, either independently or alongside larger A330 wide bodied jets.

It is clear that the A321neoLRs, the first of which will arrive in the first half of 2019, will also enable Aer Lingus to replace the Boeing 757-200s that it currently wet-leases from ASL Airlines. Therefore, using the APEX data suite on an existing 757 route, for example Shannon – New York, we can begin to understand the benefits of the aircraft. The premise behind using single-aisle aircraft on longer-range markets is that the lesser capacity can better meet demand on thinner routes, delivering a better yield and market potential.

The Route Performance module of APEX clearly shows the advantages to Aer Lingus of using the type on a route such as Shannon – New York versus the larger A330-200. The airline would need to carry just over 120,000 passengers (at an average 80% load) to support a daily A321neoLR. That is over 20% fewer passengers than deploying one of its A330s. The estimated breakeven price point is also lower for the A321neoLR at US$238, circa -20% lower than the A330-200.

Aer Lingus has been growing its long-haul operation across the Atlantic under the guidance of its parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) (IAG). Alongside long running flights from Dublin to Boston, Chicago, New York and Orlando, new links have been added to San Francisco and Toronto in 2014; Washington in 2015; Hartford, Los Angeles and Newark in 2016; Miami in 2017 and Philadelphia and Seattle are set to follow in 2018. The busier and long-standing markets are being flown using A330s, while the likes of Hartford, Philadelphia and Washington are flown using the leased 757-200s as well as both of Shannon’s long-haul markets – Boston and New York.

The Profitability Module of APEX shows that Aer Lingus is delivering strong profit margins across its North American network from Dublin, particularly on its longer established routes which all see margins in excess of +30%. Its newer routes are building profitability, while out of Shannon there are positive returns for both the Boston and New York routes, albeit at margins lower than those being delivered out of Dublin.

It is clear that the use of a smaller capacity aircraft is helping Aer Lingus to serve a wider transatlantic network than by using just the A330 (including both the -200 and -300 variants). The 757s have helped with this strategy, but the A321neoLR will help this to develop further, and will certainly enable the airline to perhaps replicate some of its best performing Eastern US markets out of Dublin from Shannon.

‘Gamechanger’ or not, what is obvious is that the A321neoLR does have the credentials to serve an increasing number of medium- and long-haul routes more efficiently than other aircraft types. Perhaps it will ultimately prove to be a better hub buster than the 787!


The APEX platform from RDC provides an accurate and unrivalled view of airline performance data used by airports and airlines worldwide to improve revenues and profit as well as win new business.