Today we will discuss an article that Reuters wrote (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-airbus-a321xlr/airbus-pencils-in-orders-for-new-a321xlr-jet-sources-idUSKCN1QA1Z1). Airbus is lining up customers for the A321neo XLR, another A321neo variant with even more range. Boeing postponed a final decision on the New Middle Aircraft launch to next year. Airbus is now seriously considering an A321neo 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 Middle Aircraft. Launching the A321neo XLR would make the business case even harder for several reasons:
- The A321neo XLR would likely be available in 2022-23 vs 2025 at best for the New Middle Aircraft. Engine manufacturers can do the job with a thrust bump instead of a full redesign.
- It would dent into the potential New Middle Aircraft market. One order for the A321neo 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 Middle Aircraft.
We can now focus on the Airbus A321neo 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 the below plot we are comparing the payload-range diagrams for several aircrafts: the A321neo, Boeing 757-200, A321neo LR and A321neo XLR. We went on Airbus’ and Boeing’s websites for the other ones. The A321neo XLR range is estimated from the A321neo LR variant.
And summary aircraft statistics below:
|Aircraft||Max Payload||Range at Max Payload||Range At Max Fuel||Payload at Max Fuel||MTOW|
* Has winglets
** Has 3 auxiliary fuel tanks
Payload in metric tons, range in nautical miles. MTOW means maximum takeoff weight, in metric tons
The above data comes from manufacturers. In practice one needs to account for increased fuel reserves and headwinds. Going westwards 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 assume that one passenger represents 100kg of payload. We sum the total for the aircraft, depending on an airlines’ configuration, rounding it up to the nearest metric ton.
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. They operate those flights with aircrafts seating around 170 passengers (168 for Delta Air Lines, 169 for United Airlines and 176 for American Airlines).
In order to estimate the A321neo LR’s range we need to look at the flights already announced by TAP Air Portugal and Aer Lingus for the summer of 2019:
The A31neo LR seems capable of carrying 18 tons of payload up to 3,300 nautical miles. We can subtract 300 nautical miles to get an estimate of the effective winter range. For the A321neo XLR we will add 500 nautical miles to the A321neo LR’s numbers. We get the following range estimates for transatlantic operations:
|Aircraft||Winter Range||Summer Range||Payload|
Now we have an estimate of how far the A321neo 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 have either ordered the A321neo LR or that we think are interested in the A321neo 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 all the available payload (20.9 metric tons). For other airlines we use a current A321neo passenger configuration if available, or default to 18 metric tons. Depending on the payload we adjust the A321neo XLR’s effective range. We use the following rule of thumb: with an extra ton of payload range decreases by 150 nautical miles (the A321neo XLR burns around 2.5 metric tons per hour of cruise, or 2.8 per 500 nautical miles), and vice versa.
|Airline||Airport of interest||Payload||Summer Range||Winter Range|
|Norwegian||OSL, CPH, ARN, DUB||20.9||3300||3000|
|SAS||OSL, CPH, ARN||16||4100||3800|
|Air Asia||KUL, DMK||20.9||3300||3000|
|JetStar||CNS, MEL, BNE, SYD||20.9||3300||3000|
|Air New Zeland||AKL||17||3950||3650|
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 A321neo 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:
As one can see the A321neo XLR can fly all the way to Rome from all 4 cities in premium heavy configurations. 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:
Icelandair could fly all the way to Los Angeles year-round with some payload restrictions. From Dublin Aer Lingus can fly all the way to Miami. SAS could fly all the way to Chicago in a 157 seat configuration. For Norwegian Air Shuttle it might prove challenging to fly the A321neo 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:
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. Even Auckland could be reachable (due to fewer time zones traveled) if the carrier elects for a premium heavy configuration. Hawaiian Airlines is a strong A321neo 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:
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:
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 A321neo (X)LR.
We will then look at Jetstar, Qantas Group’s low cost subsidiary. The airline already ordered the A321neo LR to operate flights to Bali (replacing 787s in the process). We assume a 21 metric tons payload and effective range of 3300 nautical miles year round.
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:
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 A321neo XLR, replacing 777-200ERs and 787-9s in the process.
The A321neo XLR multiplies the number of possible routes over the Atlantic, especially from Boston in premium configurations. It also opens new possibilities to 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. 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 A321neo XLR is a niche aircraft but it can appeal to numerous customers.