Airbus launched the A321LR this morning in Hamburg. The 2 hour 36 minute test flight kicks off a 100+ hour test program for the new subtype. The company expects that certifications will be issued in Q2 ’18 with commercial service launching in Q4.
And yet that also didn’t entirely happen. The test aircraft, MSN 7877 does not have all the LR options in place. The version flying today is capable of the advertised 4,000 nautical mile range only with additional tweaks to its configuration. It is the base Airbus Cabin Flex design.
The A321LR features a new door configuration, enabling its operators to accommodate up to 240 passengers in Airbus’ widest Single Aisle fuselage in the sky. The new Airspace by Airbus cabin available on the A320 Family additionally enhances the passengers’ unrivalled travel experience. With further options, combining an increased Maximum Take Off Weight (MTOW) of 97 tonnes and a third Additional Centre Fuel Tank (ACT), the aircraft’s range extends to 4000nm (7400 km), allowing airlines to tap into new market opportunities.
The Airbus Cabin Flex (ACF) fuselage layout removes the second door forward of the wing (it is virtually never used for boarding due to proximity to the engines) in favor of additional over-wing exits. This increases the total potential capacity to 240 passengers; long-haul operators of the type are generally expected to carry far fewer than that across oceans. The A321neo ACF is an option today and will become standard for all A321neos around 2020.
The ACF layout is also the base for the LR design, enabling the additional fuel tank to be added if an airline wants the longer range. This design is, according to Airbus, part of a very low risk option set for carriers. The tanks can be installed and the airlines can fly the longer routes. If they decide the additional fuel tank is no longer needed it can be removed to add baggage capacity back to the aircraft with a relatively quick and inexpensive modification. In order to deliver all of these options for airlines Airbus must conduct test flights in all the configurations. To that end the initial flights are just the “base” ACF layout. Other iterations will progress throughout the test period according to the company.
Hi Jon, the aircraft demonstrated today is a 100% ready A321LR. It features all the specificities such as 97t MTOW & the ACF fuselage. It is ready for the 3rd ACT. During the flight test programme, all ACF configurations (0,1,2,3) need to be tested.
— Airbus (@Airbus) January 31, 2018
It is provisioned for the third fuel tank today; that tank will be installed later in the test cycle.
Airbus continues to push the value of the aircraft as a potential game-changer in the transatlantic market, a replacement for the 757-200 that Boeing no longer produces. Some are skeptical of just how far the increased range and capacity will really stretch the market.
I can’t see the LR being a market-segment transforming a/c but it may open up some routes (regional LH in the uk, please?). Airbus are adding the MTOW increase and potentially additional engine thrust ratings to the Type Certificate Data sheet for the A320 series pic.twitter.com/OYRZxJuEi1
— Mark Mannering-Smith (@mmsBA) January 31, 2018
A few carriers committed to the A321LR see potential for significant increases in Transatlantic service. Aer Lingus can replace older 752s and augment with new, smaller destinations in the US and Canada. Air Portugal (f/k/a TAP)’s part owner David Neeleman (also formerly of JetBlue, currently of Azul) sees significant potential for Portugal to become a transit point for travelers between the US and Canadian east coast and Europe or Africa thanks to the A321LR. XL Airways and Primera plan to serve the TATL market with point-to-point service rather than connecting flow.
Going long again—after its previous trip to Los Angeles, A321neo TF-SKY is off to @flySFO. Average flight time 8 hr 32 min.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) January 31, 2018
Iceland’s WOW Air is flying its non-LR model to Los Angeles and San Francisco this winter, routes that push the limits on the non-LR type’s range. Lighter loads in the winter help make that an easier trip but it is clear that the A321 is pushing further across the Atlantic than many would have predicted a decade ago.
On the US side of the Atlantic sits JetBlue. The carrier again declined to commit to the LR and launching Transatlantic service in its most recent earnings call but the smart money is betting on a new growth spurt across the Pond from the carrier’s Boston and JFK bases.