- The Airbus A321XLR is its latest narrowbody airliner. It’s built to fly up to 11 hours nonstop.
- The game-changing aircraft should open new, previously uneconomical routes and connect more cities.
- Airlines may take a closer look at the A321neoXLR amid Boeing’s new 737 Max fallout.
Boeing is facing renewed scrutiny after an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 plane lost a part of its fuselage during a January flight — and it could prompt airlines to turn to European competitor Airbus.
On Tuesday, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby suggested a possible new trajectory for the carrier amid the Max 9 fallout, which resulted in dozens of United’s own Max planes being temporarily grounded and a subsequent loss of revenue.
“The Max 9 grounding is probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for us,” Kirby told CNBC. “We’re gonna build an alternative plan that just doesn’t have the Max 10 in it.”
The yet-to-be-certified by the FAA Max 10 is the largest variant in the 737 Max family, and United has 150 on order. However, deliveries have already been delayed at least five years, and Kirby noted the “consistent manufacturing challenges” and called on Boeing to “take action.”
If United does change its order book, it’s likely the carrier would go for the Max’s main competitor — the Airbus A321neo. United has 180 total A321 planes on order, including 130 for the A321neo and 50 for the A321neoXLR.
The “Xtra Long Range” variant, in particular, is Airbus’ longest-ranged A321neo option. Like the Max 10 and Max 7 — Boeing’s smallest 737 Max model — the XLR is also yet to be certified by the FAA but has not faced the same scrutiny. Even before the Max fiasco, airlines were eyeing the versatile narrowbody, which is expected to enter service this year.
Here’s why the A321neoXLR could be an industry game changer as demand continues to surge, people seek more point-to-point flying, and airlines continue to modernize their fleets.
The A321XLR can open new routes thanks to its extra fuel tank
Single-aisle planes have been flying across the Atlantic for decades now, like JetBlue’s Boston to London route using an A321XLR and Icelandair’s New York to Reykjavik flight using a Boeing 757.
However, the A321XLR’s large rear center fuel tank allows it to fly up to 5,400 miles (11 hours) nonstop, which is 15% further than the A321LR and gives airlines added flexibility.
The XLR’s range is especially helpful in regard to underserved markets because it should let airlines open previously uneconomical routes and effectively eliminate layovers between low-demand city pairs.
American Airlines, which has ordered 50 XLRs, has suggested routes like Raleigh, North Carolina, direct to London — meaning passengers wouldn’t have to stop in the carrier’s Charlotte or New York hubs along the way.
“American likes the A321, and we can do a number of things with the XLR, including serving routes that cannot support a 787 but where we still have a nice onboard product,” American’s managing director of global network planning Jason Reisinger said at a Routes Americas 2023 panel in March.
Reisinger is likely nodding to American’s brand new “Flagship Suite” business class product that is set to debut on its future Boeing 787 and XLRs starting this year.
The XLR will offer enhanced comfort and economics
According to an Airbus spokesperson, the XLR has good economics, including reducing fuel burn by 30% compared to the Boeing 757.
And, he told Business Insider at the Paris Airshow in June that the jet does this without sacrificing capacity as it can hold between 180 and 220 people in a two-class configuration — similar to the 757, which Icelandair is replacing with the XLR.
Moreover, passenger comfort will not be compromised as Airbus has come up with new systems that better regulate things like ventilation, temperature, and sound onboard, as well as add more overhead bin space capacity — hopefully reducing the pesky gate checks.
However, probably most importantly, the XLR will be a good fleet replacement aircraft as carriers ditch aging jets for ones with better engines and aerodynamics. This is not only healthy for an airline, but advanced systems can help reduce pilot workload and overall stress.
“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network,” Andrew Nocella, Chief Commercial Officer for United said in a December 2019 press release announcing the XLR order.
An Airbus spokesperson told BI the XLR would also be half the cost to operate between Paris and New York compared to a widebody but noted there would be less revenue due to the fewer seats: “It’s a balance,” he said at the Paris Airshow.
The XLR has already racked up hundreds of orders
Since its world debut in 2019, the XLR has gotten over 500 orders from more than 25 airlines, an Airbus spokesperson told BI.
Besides the two aforementioned orders from American and United, carriers from every corner of the globe have taken interest in the XLR jet.
Other deals include four from launch customer Middle East Airlines, 13 from JetBlue, an undisclosed number from Indian airline IndiGo, 20 from Australian flag carrier Qantas, 30 from Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia X, 10 from Chile-based budget carrier Sky Airline, and seven from Czech Airlines.
One thing to note: the diversity of operators, highlighting the plane’s versatility that is expected to fit into both mainline and low-cost business models.
IndiGo’s order is particularly interesting for the region, with India historically lacking long-haul connectivity to cities in Europe and Southeast Asia.
However, the XLR will help eliminate common layovers and create more direct links, like New Delhi to Seoul or Mumbai to Amsterdam, which are currently operated by dual-aisle jets.
“This order is an important milestone, as it reiterates our mission of strengthening air connectivity in India, which will, in turn, boost economic growth and mobility,” IndiGo’s former CEO Ronojoy Dutta said in October 2019.