Airbus officially unveils A321XLR

Airbus A321XLR Paris Airshow 2019

Airbus has officially unveiled a new long-range version of the A321neo at the Paris Airshow 2019, the A321XLR. The new aircraft will become the longest ranged, single-aisle jetliner when it is launched in 2023.

The A321XLR comes as a result of increasing demand in the market for longer-range narrowbodies and will deliver a range of up to 4,700 nm (8,700 km) – 15 per cent more than the A321LR, but with the same fuel efficiency. Airbus expects the A321XLR will bring a 30 per cent lower fuel burn per seat than previous-generation competitor aircraft.

The aircraft features a new “permanent” rear centre tank, modified landing gear for an increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 101 metric tonnes, and an optimised wing trailing-edge flap configuration to preserve the same take-off performance and engine thrust requirements as today’s A321neo.

With this added range, airlines will be able to operate a lower-cost single-aisle aircraft on longer and less popular routes, many of which are currently served by larger widebody aircraft. This will enable routes such as between India and Europe, China and Europe, as well as further extending the A321 family’s reach on direct transatlantic flights between continental Europe and the Americas.

But there is a debate over whether passengers will enjoy flying longer distances in medium-haul planes and at what price. The A321XLR will feature Airbus’ new ‘Airspace cabin’ with larger overhead bins, new lavatories, and updated inflight entertainment, but the rise of single-aisle, long-distance travel will still involve revisiting years of industry marketing about the benefit of roomier widebody cabins on long-haul flights.

Airbus did not give a price for the A321XLR. The current A321neo has a list price of $129.5m (£102.8m).

Boeing to enter the mid-market?

The announcement of the A321XLR comes at a time when Boeing plans for a possible new mid-market jet, dubbed the ‘New Midsize Airplane’ (NMA). The American airframer is yet to announce whether it will go ahead with developing the aircraft, which will likely be dubbed the 797.

Boeing’s most recent mid-market aircraft, the 757, launched in 1982 and was produced until 2004, with 1,050 of the type delivered over the 23 years that it was in production.

The NMA is expected to be sized between the 757 and 767, with Boeing currently in “active” talks with about 50 potential customers. Two main versions of the NMA are said to have been defined: a 225-seat model with a 5,000 nm (9,300 km) range and a 275-seat version with a 4,500 nm (8,300 km) range.

However, reeling from the grounding of the 737 MAX in the wake of two deadly crashes, Boeing needs to carefully consider its timeline and strategy for new models. Airbus upset the power balance in 2011 when it pulled a massive order from American Airlines, a longtime Boeing customer, thanks to the A320 new-engine option.

If Boeing doesn’t play its cards right, it could give Airbus a clear path to dominating the commercial aircraft market share over the next 10 to 15 years, with the wide scope of the A320 family offering airlines greater flexibility.

Boeing is set to announce its decision on the NMA later this year, with a potential launch for 2025.