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|
|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|
* 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:
|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:
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:
|A321 XLR||Tap Portugal||4500||4150||3650||3950|
|A321 XLR||Aer Lingus||4500||3350||3350||3650|
|A321 XLR||Low Cost||4500||3800||3300||3600|
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|
|Norwegian||OSL, CPH, ARN, DUB||20||3600||3300|
|SAS||OSL, CPH, ARN||16.8||3950||3650|
|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:
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:
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:
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:
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 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.
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 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.