The blockbuster aircraft at the Paris Air Show – the Airbus A321XLR
A few days prior to the Paris Air Show, the aviation community has speculated and almost confirmed that Airbus is releasing a new aircraft type.
Airbus has upgraded their most successful aircraft ever – the Airbus A320. A stretched variant of the A320 family with more seats and now even more range, the Airbus A321XLR has made huge strides during the first three days of the Paris Air Show.
The XLR version has become the most sold aircraft so far during the 53rd iteration of the most popular air show in the aviation industry, with 226 orders as of the 20th of June.
Out of the 226, 48 of those were firm orders, airlines committed to 79 A321XLR’s and converted 99 orders from the regular Airbus A321 version to the XLR variant.
But why airlines were so trigger happy to purchase the newest member of the A320 family, the Airbus A321XLR?
And what does the new variant mean for us, the passengers that will fly on these planes?
Out with the old, in with the new
While both the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 families have dominated the single-aisle aircraft segments for ages now, people tend to forget one more very important single-aisle aircraft.
The Boeing 757.
As of now, there was no direct competitor to the 757 – an aircraft that could carry around 200 passengers in a standard 2-class configuration with a range of 3915 Nm (7250.5 km). The Boeing 737-800NG, the most popular variant of the Next Generation 737’s had 40 fewer seats and could travel 1000 Nm less than the 757. Even the newest Boeing single-aisle aircraft, the Boeing 737 MAX has less range than the 30 year old 757.
And only the biggest MAX variant, the MAX-10 could seat the same amount of people as the Boeing 757 could.
But 15 years after Boeing ended the production of the 757, Airbus finally has plugged the hole in the market with a very tight screw – the Airbus A321XLR.
When comparing the 757 with the A321XLR, the newest European aircraft not only will seat more passengers but will be able to travel 800 Nm further and with 30% less fuel burned, according to Airbus.
For airlines, the deal sounds amazing – less fuel, more passengers with more range are the three categories that every airline executive craves improvements at. Plus, the A321XLR is a single-aisle jet, meaning you can deploy it on less popular routes that would not fill an A350, for example.
In addition, low-cost carriers are also very excited about the XLR. Reduced costs of the already very efficient A320 family will allow budget airlines to transfer passengers to more destinations without bumping up the prices of the flight tickets.
Airlines feel very comfortable when ordering the new Airbus aircraft.
However, the new jet has raised some questions on whether the passengers would feel comfortable during the flights.
Passenger comfort in the A321XLR
While Airbus claims that despite the fuselage stretch, the A321 can still seat more passengers using the 18” seats, there are some doubts whether a flight from London to Miami would be a very comfortable experience for passengers.
Nevertheless, airlines like American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) , which already put an order of 50 A321XLRs, do value comfort as it’s a legacy carrier. In spite of this, the A320 family is not the aircraft to be filled with lie-flat seats – a huge majority of the people traveling on one or the other Airbus A320 version do travel in economy.
On the other side of the spectrum, low-cost carriers do not. Indigo Partners, the company that owns Wizz Air, Frontier and other low-cost carriers, also have ordered 50 XLRs. These airlines primarily operate short point-to-point flights.
But now, just like Wizz Air’s CEO, József Váradi has pointed out, the A321XLR provides an “opportunity for Wizz Air to further expand its network and connect points on the WIZZ map that are currently out of reach, given the enhanced range capability of the aircraft.”
And budget airlines are not known for their comfortable interior. As they try to save every penny on flights, their seats are very basic with not a lot of pitch, width or even entertainment.
For example, Airbus has advertised that the A321XLR will be capable to provide flights between Reykjavik and Dubai. Both destinations are on Wizz Air’s destination network, but the Hungarian airline doesn’t currently offer a direct flight between these two cities. However, judging by the press release, the situation might change.
— Airbus PRESS (@AirbusPRESS) June 17, 2019
The distance between Reykjavik and Dubai is 3715.56 Nm. For example, the distance between Reykjavik and Portland is 3253.56 Nm – Icelandair operates the Flight FI 665 with a Boeing 757, which takes up 8 hours. The difference in distance is about 500 Nm or roughly between 2 and 1 and a half hours in travel time.
So, to make a rough estimate, a flight between Reykjavik and Dubai would take somewhere between 9 – 10 hours.
Sitting for that long in an economy seat? I very much doubt that it would be a comfortable journey.
Plus, there’s the other issue – with the Airbus A321XLR seating over 200 passengers with 3 or 4 toilets in the best case scenario that might make the flight even more uncomfortable.
A popular choice
However, while Airbus or any airlines have still not revealed the exact seating configuration, it might only remain speculation.
But Airbus A321XLR sales have definitely showcased that it’s a popular choice among airline executives during the Paris Air Show. Additionally, Airbus finally filled the void left by the ceased production of the Boeing 757.
It is expected that Airbus will sell more than 226 XLRs even after the festivities at Paris. With the improvements in range, economics there’s the remaining upside of all of the A320 family – pilots do not have to get a separate type-rating. As a result, training costs for airlines are further reduced.
Whether it becomes a popular choice for passengers traveling long-haul routes is a question that we will be able to answer only in 2023, when the Airbus expects the A321XLR to enter commercial service.