A look at the best-selling commercial jets illustrates what airliners care about today: aircraft range and carrying capacity. These are the two variables that move the needle. Which is why the launch of the Airbus A321XLR was easily among the most important happenings at the 2019 Paris Air Show.
The Airbus A321XLR
Put simply, nothing can hold a candle to the XLR when it comes to range and seating capacity.
With a range of 4,700 nautical miles, the Airbus A321XLR “Extra Long Range” is an even longer-range variant of the A321LR. It can fly from Rome to New York or Tokyo to Melbourne.
The longer range comes thanks to an enlarged fuel tank and strengthened landing gears that can handle an increased maximum takeoff weight. In terms of bells and whistles, the XLR comes with programmable LED-lighting and overhead bins that are 40% larger than previous designs.
The XLR’s 30 percent decrease in fuel burn per seat also helps airliners meet eco-friendly initiatives, albeit at the cost of slightly longer travel times. United, for example, has committed to reduce its carbon footprint by 50 percent between 2005 and 2050.
Why it’s a Game-Changer
The trend in commercial aviation is away from the traditional hub-and-spoke business model toward point-to-point, non-stop flights. The Airbus A321XLR is perfectly designed to meet this need.
Airlines utilizing the XLR along with wide-body aircraft will have the flexibility to link new cities or add additional flights on existing routes, such as using an XLR on a short connecting flight before a trans-Atlantic trip.
Boeing, needing a competitor in the long-range, narrow-body market, recently announced a joint venture with Embraer in which it paid $4.2 billion for an 80% stake of Embraer’s production of commercial jets with fewer than 150 seats.
American Airlines will replace its aging fleet of Boeing 757s with 50 XLRs. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2023 as XLRs begin rolling off the assembly line in Mobile, Alabama and Hamburg, Germany. JetBlue Airways, Iberia and Saudi Arabian Airways have also ordered the plan or converted old A321s to the new variant.
Airbus A321 Doubters
While Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, sees “a significant number, perhaps a majority of trans-Atlantic and other long-haul routes being operated by narrow-body, long-range airplanes” like the XLR, others aren’t so sure.
The Lufthansa CEO has commented that the XLR may end up more of a “niche” aircraft, losing market share to more comfortable widebody jets, especially if commercial airliners end up prioritizing deliveries over long range.
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Photo credit Seeking Alpha: Boeing Does Not Have An Answer To The Airbus A220 Yet