Airbus launched the A321XLR last week on the first day of the Paris Air Show. 229 orders and letters of intent were placed for the new A321neo variant. It is scheduled to enter service in 2023. In this blog post we will first discuss why the A321XLR was launched, including whether the A321LR is a true Boeing 757 replacement. We will then evaluate the A321XLR’s effective range. After checking whether the aircraft has the range to complete the missions Airbus claims it is capable of in marketing brochures, we will look at destinations the A321XLR could reach from 8 cities for airlines that didn’t order the aircraft yet.
When launched in January 2015, Airbus claimed the A321LR would have a 4,000 nautical miles range that would make it a proper 757-200 replacement. The fuel burn per seat would be at least 25% lower than the aging Boeing aircraft. The aircraft entered service with a few airlines, including TAP Portugal. TAP owner David Neeleman declared last week in a Flightglobal.com article that the “A321LR didn’t end up having the range it was promised … the LR wasn’t a 757 replacement”. Does the data back Neeleman’s claim?
As well as summary aircraft specifications:
|Aircraft||Max Payload||Range at Max Payload||Range At Max Fuel||Range|
The main A321neo weakness is that it is fuel limited at around 2,650nm. In practice that means the A321neo cannot do flights much longer than US trans-continental (JetBlue pretty much uses the entire aircraft range with its future flight from New York to Guayaquil, at 2,581nm). It is a legacy of the fact the A321 was conceived as a stretch of the A320 without any major wing redesign that would increase fuel capacity. The A321LR loses around 1.5 metric tons in maximum payload capacity (due to the extra weight incurred by the 3 auxiliary fuel tanks) but is fuel limited at 4,000nm.
As one can see the 757-200 can carry more payload than the A321LR all the way to 3,800nm, when it becomes fuel limited. It is only past that range that the A321LR can carry more payload.
The above payload capabilities assume a short haul configuration without amenities that would be standard for trans-Atlantic flights. In flight entertainment, lie flat beds and amenities to cater on such flights make the aircraft heavier. As a rule of thumb we will assume that the aircraft is 10kg heavier per passenger and 100kg per lie flat bed. If we take TAP’s configuration with 152 economy seats and 16 lie flat beds, the aircraft is around 3.3 metric tons heavier.
Airbus assumes a weight of 90kg per passenger when calculating the A321LR range. This assumption is reasonable on short haul flights for low cost airlines but unrealistic on a trans-Atlantic flight. In practice airlines use around 100kg per passenger including luggage. This means TAP’s A321LR carries a payload of 16.8 metric tons.
Taking into account the heavier cabin and real world passenger weight, we obtain the following payload-range table for the 757-200 and A321LR in TAP’s configuration:
|Aircraft||Payload at Given Range||Range At Seating||Transatlantic Range|
As one can see the A321LR has more than 100nm less range than the 757-200. In order to account for real life trans-Atlantic conditions one needs to subtract at least 250nm for summer conditions and 500nm for winter conditions. Headwinds are stronger going west over the Atlantic during winter months. TAP’s longest flight with the A321LR, Lisbon to Washington Dulles, has a 3,121 nm great circle distance. The airline plans to operate the flight during winter months.
One should note that the 757-200 range is for a brand new aircraft. The 757-200s carriers currently operate are quite old, resulting in diminished performance (and range). US Airlines currently operate flights up to 3,300nm during summer. If one were to compare the range of a 757-200 from Delta Air Lines with TAP’s A321LR, it would be closer than above. However that does not change the fact David Neeleman is right in saying the A321LR has less range than the 757-200.
The fact the A321LR isn’t a true 757-200 replacement is part of the reason why Airbus studied a variant with more range. The 3 auxiliary fuel tanks are quite inefficient (each weighs 400 kg). Airbus looked at alternatives to make the fuel tank design more efficient.
However the main reason for the aircraft launch was a combination of airline demand and Boeing’s New Midsize Airplane. Airbus hopes that by launching the A321XLR it will lure some customers away from Boeing’s NMA. Since the business case for the NMA is already edgy, Airbus hopes to deter the American manufacturer from launching it altogether. American Airlines will use the A321XLR to replace its aging 757-200 fleet. Other carriers, such as Qantas’ JetStar and IAG, will mainly launch new narrowbody long haul services or keep more frequencies during low demand months.
Now that we outlined how the A321XLR came about, what is the aircraft’s range?
Bjorn Ferhm confirmed in a post on Leeham News and Analysis that Airbus uses the same assumptions as with the A321LR when outlining the A321XLR range. This will allow us to re-use some of the work that we did in another blog post on the A321XLR before it was launched.
Airbus claims that the A321XLR’s rear fuel tank weighs as much as one auxiliary fuel tank. Wizz Air also announced that it is planning to seat 239 passengers in the A321XLR. Wizz Air will not use anything that makes the aircraft cabin heavier such as IFE or lie flat beds. We will therefore assume that the maximum payload the A321XLR can carry is 24 metric tons.
We can therefore chart an approximate payload-range diagram for the A321XLR, comparing it with the 757-200 and A321LR:
And the following basic aircraft specifications:
|A321 XLR Specification||Value|
|MTOW (metric tons)||101|
|Max Payload (metric tons)||24|
|Range at Max Payload (nm)||3,650|
|Range at Max Fuel (nm)||4,700|
|Payload at Max Fuel (metric tons)||18|
Note that the above figures assume the same aircraft configuration as Airbus. We therefore need to take into account the addition of IFE and lie flat beds. We will assume the following five aircraft configurations (for TAP and Aer Lingus we use the same configuration as on their current A321LR):
|A321XLR Configuration||Nominal Maximum Payload||Passenger Seats||Extra Aircraft Weight||Maximum Payload|
Payload and weight in metric tons
|A321XLR Config||Payload at Given Range||Range At Seating||Transatlantic Range|
As one can see the aircraft has meaningfully more range than the A321LR. Even in an ultra low cost configuration is can fly from London to New York with a full payload during winter months. Nevertheless, the effective range can be up to 1,500nm less than what Airbus announced in the brochure. We will now look at which city pairs in Airbus’ brochure are within range of the A321XLR, depending on the aircraft configuration.
Below are the city pairs and an ‘x’ flags whether it is within the practical range of the A321XLR depending on the seating configuration. We also outline whether we use the winter or summer range assumption. We assume a winter range anytime the flight involves a change of more than 3 time zones.
|Route||Distance||Range||ULC||Low Cost||Aer Lingus||TAP Portugal||Premium|
Apart from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland all the city pairs are reachable with a premium configuration. Only Sydney – Tokyo Narita and Dubai – Cape Town are not within reach of the A321XLR in TAP Portugal’s configuration. On the other hand very few routes are within reach of the ultra low cost configuration.
In the rest of the blog post we will look at eight airlines that could potentially order the A321XLR. We will check whether some cities are within reach or not from their main hub (with an ‘x’). Below are the airlines and airports we will consider. We also specify the assumed configuration:
|Region||Airline||Airport of interest||Configuration|
|Central Asia||Air Astana||TSE||TAP Portugal|
|North America||Air Canada||YUL||Aer Lingus|
|North Asia||Korean Air||ICN||Premium|
|South Europe||Tap Portugal||LIS||TAP Portugal|
|Southeast Asia||Air Asia||KUL||ULC|
Icelandair – Keflavik (KEF)
A post was recently written on this blog about Icelandair considering a switch to the A321neo. As we can see below the A321XLR is a strong candidate to replace the aging 757s and 767s in the carrier’s fleet:
SFO and LAX are not within reach during winter months with a full 200 passengers payload. However given the lower travel demand during winter the airline could still consider operating the type to the US West Coast without a full passenger payload or switching to a more premium configuration. All other Northern America destinations of interest are within reach.
Air Astana – Nur-Sultan (TSE)
Given Kazakhstan’s location on the Eurasian continent, the A321XLR provides interesting opportunities:
Even using a configuration like Aer Lingus, the Kazakhstan flag carrier can reach Lisbon, Singapore, Tokyo, Reykjavik and Manila from Nur-Sultan. The A321XLR can operate all routes within the carrier’s network. Air Astana should seriously consider canceling its order for 3 787-8s (converting to more E195 E2s) and ordering the A321XLR instead to replace its aging 767-300ERs.
Air Canada – Montreal (YUL)
Following the announcement of Air Canada’s takeover of Air Transat, the Canadian carrier will inherit an order for the A321LR. Montreal is an ideal location for trans-Atlantic operations given its Northeast location. Unlike Toronto the airport isn’t slot constrained, giving room for further expansion.
Rome might be a stretch during winter months with a full payload but other than that the A321XLR can fly deep into Europe year round, including to Vienna. Flights to secondary cities in France won’t be an issue year round with the A321XLR. Once the Air Transat transaction concludes Air Canada is a strong candidate to announce an A321XLR order.
Korean Air – Seoul (ICN)
One should acknowledge that it is unlikely at this point that Korean Air Lines will place an A321XLR order in the near future. The Korean flag carrier has a large cargo business, for which the A321XLR isn’t suited. However, with Delta Air Lines’ investment, the airline might consider long haul narrowbody flights down the line.
Sydney is too far from Seoul for the A321XLR, even in a premium configuration. However numerous thinner routes, such as Stockholm and Brisbane, are reachable year round. The latest A321neo variant could allow Korean Air to operate more frequencies on thin routes without cargo. Flights to other Hawaii islands are possible with the A321XLR.
SAS – Copenhagen (CPH)
SAS already ordered the A321LR. The A321XLR would allow the Scandinavian flag carrier to fly to Chicago year round with a full passenger payload, as well as some other destinations.
Miami would only be reachable during summer months. However Washington, Mumbai and Toronto are reachable year round. Beijing would also be reachable from Copenhagen. Since a large number of those long haul routes operate with less than daily frequency, the A321XLR is a potential game changer for SAS to improve profitability.
Hawaiian – Honolulu (HNL)
Hawaiian Airlines already operates the A321neo. Therefore an A321XLR order would make a lot of sense given fleet commonality.
Eastern Japan and Texas are reachable year round. Osaka and Chicago are reachable during summer months. Reaching Auckland would require a more premium oriented cabin cabin with fewer seats. Hawaiian Airlines would be able to increase frequencies on flights to secondary Japan cities.
TAP Portugal – Lisbon (LIS)
The main interest of the A321XLR for the Portuguese flag carrier is to fly deeper into the USA and Brazil.
Houston and Rio de Janeiro are too far for the A321XLR. However Chicago, Miami and Salvador are now reachable year round. David Neeleman’s interest for the A321XLR is justified.
Air Asia – Kuala Lumpur
The Asian low cost airline has expressed strong interest in the A321XLR. The carrier might consider swapping some A330neo orders to the A321XLR. The airline might use an ultra low cost configuration seating almost 240 passengers. Since the carrier does not operate across many time zones we will assume it can use a summer range.
Eastern Australia is a stretch in an ultra low cost configuration. However all of China, Japan and Dubai are within reach. The aircraft is a strong alternative to the A330neo for Air Asia.
To summarize it was a lower than hoped A321LR range as well as a tactical move on Boeing’s NMA that led Airbus to launch the A321XLR. While in practice the aircraft does not have the advertised 4,700nm range, airlines can consider far more routes than with the LR variant, depending on the aircraft configuration. It is an outstanding alternative for thin or seasonal routes to increase frequencies. One should note that the A321XLR cannot carry much cargo, if any. A number of airlines will be studying whether they are better off operating two daily A321XLR flights or a single one with a widebody.