By Alex Macheras
Airbus launched the A321XLR this week at Paris Airshow, an extra-long-range variant of the A321LR (which itself is already a long-range variant of the existing A321neo).
As airline customers from around the globe remain focused on efficiency, single-aisle jets with adequate range for long-haul routes have quickly become sought-after, leaving Airbus in a strong position as its rival Boeing has still not launched its answer to the ‘Middle-of-Market’ jet (all while facing its largest crisis in recent history with the 737 MAX).
In addition to European airline launch customers, Lebanese flag carrier ‘Middle East Airlines-Air Liban’ (MEA) is the Middle East’s first launch customer for the A321XLR. The Lebanese carrier ordered four of the A321XLR aircraft is in addition to the airlines’ existing firm order of 11 A321neo jets.
Middle East Airlines is already an Airbus ‘NEO’ customer for both the A320neo family and A330neo jets. The Lebanese carrier first ordered five A320neo and five Airbus A321neo jets back in 2013, before converting the five A320neo, making it an all-A321neo order. In 2017, MEA ordered an additional A321neo, bringing its firm commitment to 11 A321neo jets in total.
The evolution of the Airbus A321neo has taken place over a short space of time.
A321neo — which first flew February 2016 — has a range of approximately 3,700 nautical miles. It’s also capable of flying transatlantic between Paris and New York in an all-Business Class configuration — but most airlines are using the jet for mid-haul routes.
A321LR (long-range) — which first flew in January 2018 — has a range of approximately 4,000 nautical miles, capable of flying London to New Delhi non-stop.
A321XLR — the new addition to the single-aisle A321neo dubbed the ‘A321XLR’ and expected to be launched this week at Paris Airshow, is expected to have a range of approximately 4,700 miles, plus a higher maximum-take-off-weight.
For many of Airbus’ customers, the A321LR is ‘enough’ in terms of its long-range capabilities. However, carriers including IAG Group, which owns British Airways, Aer Lingus and others have also ordered the A321XLR at Paris Airshow.
As the airlines push the manufacturers to upscale on single-aisle efficiency, it’s clear why Airbus has wasted no time in its plans for the A321XLR. Furthermore, Middle East Airlines — based in Beirut — could see tremendous, yet efficient, growth potential armed with a fuel-efficient long-range jet such as the A321XLR.
Elsewhere at the airshow, Boeing secured a major single-aisle letter-of-intent order from IAG Group for 200 Boeing 737 MAX jets — a vote of confidence in the Boeing narrow body currently responsible for Boeing’s largest crisis in over a decade.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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