Which airlines is Airbus targeting to launch the A321 XLR?

Hello All,

Today we will discuss an article that Reuters wrote on the Airbus A321 XLR. Airbus is lining up customers for the A321 XLR, an A321neo variant with even more range. Boeing postponed a final decision on the New Midmarket Aircraft launch to next year. Airbus is now seriously considering an A321 XLR launch this year, with a rumored launch at the Paris Air Show in June. The European manufacturer is discussing with numerous airline to gather enough orders to justify a launch. In this blog post we will first discuss why Airbus wants to launch another A321neo variant. We will then focus on the customers that could be interested in various regions.


A321neo LR. Credit: Airbus

Airbus has been discussing for some time the potential launch of an A321neo with even more range than the LR variant. Boeing is struggling to close the business case to launch the New Midmarket Aircraft. Launching the A321 XLR would make the business case even harder for several reasons:

  • The A321 XLR would likely be available in 2022-23 vs 2025 at best for the New Midmarket Aircraft. Engine manufacturers can do the job with a thrust bump instead of a full redesign.
  • It would dent into the potential New Midmarket Aircraft market. One order for the A321 XLR is one less for Boeing’s aircraft.
  • The world’s 757 fleets are aging fast, notably for US carriers. Airbus wants to capitalize on the fact some of them might not want wait until 2025. Ideally the European manufacturer wants to lure some US airlines away from the New Midmarket Aircraft.

We can now focus on the Airbus A321 XLR’s range. Assuming a 101 metric tons maximum takeoff weight it would likely increase to 4500 nautical miles. However for this aircraft it does not mean much without a critical element. One needs to know how much payload the aircraft can carry at that range.

In order to determine that number we will start with Airbus’ specifications. The European manufacturer assumes the A321 LR carries 200 passengers up to 4000 nm. The assumptions are however unrealistic:

  • The weight per passenger + luggage is assumed at 90kg. It is acceptable for short haul flights but unrealistic on long haul routes. A rule of thumb it to use 100kg per passenger + luggage
  • The cabin configuration is assumed to be the same as for short haul flights. It does not include long haul amenities such as in flight entertainment, food, galley and lie flat beds. Weight calculations can be very complex. For simplicity we will assume one needs to add 10kg per passenger to the aircraft empty weight, and 100kg per lie flat bed.

The baseline A321 LR can carry 18 metric tons of payload at 4000 nm and has a maximum payload of 23.5 metric tons. Using the Airbus A321neo payload – range diagrams one can derive real world aircraft capabilities:

Aircraft Nominal Maximum Payload Passenger Seats Extra Aircraft Weight Maximum Payload
Economy Lie Flat Total
A321 LR Low Cost 23.5 200 0 200 2 21.5
A321 LR Premium 23.5 135 15 150 3 20.5
A321 LR TAP 23.5 152 16 168 3.3 20.2
A321 LR Aer Lingus 23.5 168 16 184 3.4 20.1

Payload and weight in metric tons

Below are summary manufacturer aircraft specifications:

Aircraft Max Payload Range at Max Payload Range At Max Fuel Payload at Max Fuel MTOW
A321neo 25 2500 2650 23 93.5
757-200 * 25 3100 3800 20 116.1
A321neo LR** 23.5 3050 4000 18 97
A321neo XLR 20.9 4000 4500 18 101

* Has winglets

** Has 3 auxiliary fuel tanks

Payload in metric tons, range in nautical miles. MTOW means maximum takeoff weight, in metric tons

The payload range diagram chart for the above aircraft is the following:


Using baseline manufacturer specifications we can derive payload range diagrams close to real world conditions:


We can then derive the A321 LR effective range by configuration. The rule of thumb for the A321 LR is that it burns approximately 2.8 metric tons of fuel per 500 nm in cruise mode. So one can trade 2.8 tons of fuel for 500 nautical miles. We use this approximation to determine the aircraft effective range:

Aircraft Seats Payload (Tons) Range (nm)
A321 LR Low Cost 200 20 3300
A321 LR Premium 150 15 4000
A321 LR TAP 168 16.8 3650
A321 LR Aer Lingus 184 18.4 3350

In practice one needs to account for increased fuel reserves and headwinds. Going westward over the Atlantic increases flight time by more than 1 hour during winter months. We will look at current flights operated by airlines to get an idea of the maximum available range. We will assume the effective range is reduce by 500 nautical miles during winter months.

The longest flights currently operated by the US legacy carriers on the 757-200 during winter and summer allow us to infer an effective range of 3,000 nautical miles in winter and 3,300 in summer. Therefore we can assume that the effective range is reduced by 200 nautical miles during summer months. Below is the effective A321 LR range for various configurations:

Aircraft Winter Summer
A321 LR Low Cost      2800      3100
A321 LR Premium      3500      3800
A321 LR TAP      3150      3450
A321 LR Aer Lingus      2850      3150

As a sanity check we can look at the flights already announced by TAP Air Portugal and Aer Lingus for the summer of 2019:

Route Airline Distance Passengers
DUB-YUL Aer Lingus 2583 184
DUB-BDL Aer Lingus 2675 184
DUB-MSP Aer Lingus 3246 184
OPO-EWR TAP Portugal 2902 168
LIS-IAD TAP Portugal 3121 168

The only flight that seems payload restricted is Aer Lingus’ flight between Dublin and Minneapolis. The Irish carrier only operates the route during summer months. All the other flights can be operated year round.

Now that we have effective range figures for the A321 LR, we can derive those of the XLR by adding 500 nautical miles:

Aircraft Configuration Brochure Effective Winter Summer
A321 XLR Tap Portugal 4500 4150 3650 3950
A321 XLR Aer Lingus 4500 3350 3350 3650
A321 XLR Low Cost 4500 3800 3300 3600
A321 XLR Premium 4500 4500 4000 4300

We now have an estimate of how far the A321 XLR can fly. We can therefore look at airlines that could be interested to launch new services or replace their old 757-200s. Below is a list of airlines that either ordered the A321 LR or that we think are interested in the A321 XLR. We think those are the customers Airbus is currently talking to. We estimate the payload the airline will likely need to operate the aircraft. We assume a low cost airline will use the 200 seat configuration. For other airlines we use either the TAP, Aer Lingus or premium configuration.

Airline Airport of interest Payload Summer Range Winter Range
American PHL 16.8 3950 3650
Delta JFK, BOS 16.8 3950 3650
JetBlue JFK, BOS 15 4300 4000
Hawaiian HNL 18.4 3650 3350
Air Canada YUL 18.4 3650 3350
Aer Lingus DUB 18.4 3650 3350
Tap Portugal LIS 16.8 3950 3650
Norwegian OSL, CPH, ARN, DUB 20 3600 3300
Icelandair KEF 18.4 3650 3350
SAS OSL, CPH, ARN 16.8 3950 3650
Indigo DEL, BOM 20 3600 3300
Air Asia KUL, DMK 20 3600 3600
JetStar CNS, MEL, BNE, SYD 20 3600 3600
Air New Zeland AKL 16.8 3950 3950

Air Asia, JetStar and Air New Zealand do not operate across many time zones. Therefore seasonality isn’t a big a factor when determining effective range.

We can now look whether potential city pairs are within reach of the A321 XLR. We start with North American carriers for European destinations: Delta and JetBlue from Boston and New York JFK, American from Philadelphia and Air Canada from Montreal:

BOS 3171 3196 3310 3556 3286 3522
JFK 3329 3357 3472 3717 3448 3684
PHL 3410 3439 3553 3798 3528 3765
YUL 3200 3198 3310 3565 3250 3500

As one can see the A321 XLR can fly all the way to Rome from all 4 cities in premium configurations. Most destinations are reachable during summer months in a TAP style configuration. This will likely bolster jetBlue’s business case to start transatlantic operations. Reaching Rome and Vienna will be a challenge during winter months but Berlin, Geneva and Barcelona are well within reach.

We now look at European carriers for transatlantic operations:

DUB 2600 2763 2958 3620 3192 2849 3881 4430 4502
LIS 2774 2925 3121 3612 3483 3107
OSL 3045 3204 3388 3522 3222
CPH 3190 3351 3540 3722 3395
ARN 3248 3407 3589 3712 3419
KEF 2097 2253 2432 3184 2558 2258 3080 3653 3748

Icelandair could fly all the way to Los Angeles year-round with some payload restrictions. SAS could fly all the way to Chicago in summer and with some payload restrictions in winter. For Norwegian Air Shuttle it might prove challenging to fly the A321 XLR year round to most North East destinations from Scandinavia with 200 passengers on board.

We look now at the interesting case of Hawaiian Airlines:

HNL 3259 3490 3577 3303 2373 2924 3289 2602 3392 3814

The Honolulu carrier can fly to Sapporo, Texas and Guam year round. There are many other island and US destinations the carrier could consider flying the aircraft to. Auckland might be a stretch unless the carrier goes for a more premium configuration. Hawaiian Airlines is a strong A321 XLR candidate.

Indigo expressed interest in the past to start long haul operations. However the plans were postponed due to domestic fare wars and higher fuel prices. Now that Jet Airways ceased operations, the opportunity looks more attractive for Indigo. Below are some city pairs the Indian low cost carrier could consider:

DEL 3635 3209 3000 3158 3138 2516 3197 3137
BOM 3889 3348 3220 3464 3007 2999 3670 2524

Even if Indigo adopts a lower density configuration flights to London will be a stretch, especially if the closure of Pakistani airspace persists. Direct flights to some continental Europe destinations, such as Vienna or Rome, are possible though. However the bulk of opportunities are in Asia: Bali (Denpasar), Mauritius and Seoul are within reach.

We then look at Air Asia X, which mostly operates long haul flights from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Below are the potential destinations:

KUL 2886 3210 2864 3476 2227
DMK 2476 2734 3250 3931 2879

Apart from Brisbane many other destinations are within reach, including Sapporo-Chitose and Cairns. No wonder Air Asia X is considering swapping A330neo orders for the A321 (X)LR.

We will then look at Jetstar, Qantas Group’s low cost subsidiary. The airline already ordered the A321 LR to operate flights to Bali (replacing 787s in the process). We assume a 20 metric tons payload and effective range of 3600 nautical miles year round.

CNS 1855 2704 3236 2381 3693 2853
BNE 2424 3316 3916 3125 3210 3540
SYD 2494 3395 4051 3371 3308 3690
MEL 2363 3253 3950 3397 3620 3608
PER 1387 2103 2863 2791 5077 2611

Jetstar could reach Bangkok, Manila and Ho Chi Minh from Perth and Cairns, all ideal leisure routes. The carrier can can also consider starting flights to Papeete from Brisbane and Sydney.

We will now conclude with Air New Zealand:

AKL 2888 3641 3814

Just like Hawaiian Airlines the Kiwi carrier could fly to Honolulu in a premium heavy configuration. Flights to Denpasar and Perth are also possible. There are also many islands in the Pacific where the Kiwi carrier could fly the A321 XLR, replacing 777-200ERs and 787-9s in the process.

The A321 XLR multiplies the number of possible routes over the Atlantic, especially from Boston in premium configurations. It also opens new possibilities for niche carriers like Hawaiian Airlines. The aircraft has too little range in low cost configuration to add many transatlantic routes. On the other hand it might open numerous long haul routes in Asia, notably for Air Asia X, Jetstar and Indigo.

Airbus will try to at least convince 2-3 US airlines to purchase it. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are strong candidates: they (or will) operate the A321neo and have aging 757-200 fleets. JetBlue will likely order the aircraft if it wishes to expand further into Europe down the line. An order from United Airlines is unlikely (in spite of a large 757 fleet) but if Airbus manages to do so panic will ensue at Boeing. Airbus will also try to line up a few European and Asian airlines, both legacy and low cost. The A321 XLR is a niche aircraft but it can appeal to numerous customers.



7 thoughts on “Which airlines is Airbus targeting to launch the A321 XLR?

  1. The Additional Center Tanks” aka ACTs are heavy and volume wise not efficient.
    If the XLR replaces the rear hold ACTs with an integral solution _it will have lower OEW_ than the LR and also have more hold space available.


    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree that the LR ACTs aren’t efficient. However the XLR would effectively carry twice as much extra fuel as an LR compared to the A321neo. With the increased MTOW the XLR might need structural reinforcements as well. I don’t have enough knowledge to exactly estimate the effect OEW. I assumed an extra 1.5 metric tons give or take


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