Expectations for the A321XLR were relatively high headed into the week. New aircraft designs are launched at the major air shows and Airbus would want to make a splash as it tries to squeeze Boeing‘s NMA out of the market. At the same time, however, it is something of a niche design. The industry does not need thousands of the type flying around, meaning big orders in terms of aircraft numbers would be relatively hard to come by.
Instead, Airbus trickled out order after order, a few here and a few there, big airlines and small. By the end of the week the company notched 259 frames sold, though some are conversions of existing orders. The deals cover at least eleven customers and fourteen airlines, with few surprises in the value of the extra range for customers making that choice.
New flying Frontiers
In North America three airlines added the A321XLR to their fleet plans. Frontier Airlines – owned by Indigo Partners – announced plans to add 18 of the type to its fleet. Frontier’s plans seem the least refined right now, but given a few years yet before the service will launch that’s not a problem for the carrier. New transcontinental flights and services to Hawaii were teased, with possible transatlantic options in play as well.
Indigo considered taking a stake in WOW Air as that carrier collapsed, using it to connect Frontier and WizzAir, another portfolio carrier, across the Atlantic. With the A321XLR flying for both of those carriers (Wizz will take 20) it seems that connecting across partners without WOW is even more viable than it was a few months ago. The larger Indigo order of 50 XLRs covers 18 new planes and 32 conversions of prior A320neo family orders.
American’s hybrid upgrade plan
For American Airlines, the largest Airbus operator in the world, the A321XLR makes for a great 757 replacement. The carrier shed an Airbus A350 order last April, switching to the 787-8 to replace its aging 767-300 fleet. Its 757-200 fleet still needed a replacement, however, and Boeing didn’t really field an option available within American’s timing parameters. Mix in 400+ A320 family aircraft in service today and the XLR is an easy choice to make. American’s order is a mix of 20 new aircraft added to the order book and 30 conversions of previously announced planes.
American will be able to better serve Hawaii from Los Angeles and Phoenix with full loads and potentially bring premium cabins back to those markets. The carrier will also be able to run its thinner transatlantic routes from Chicago and Philadelphia more efficiently and with a refreshed business class cabin that will help improve yields. American has shown an increased willingness to run seasonal routes and otherwise experiment across the North Atlantic; the new type will only bolster those efforts from 2023.
From its Charlotte hub the carrier could fly to business markets in Brazil and Argentina with the XLR.
JetBlue’s mixed approach
JetBlue was the last carrier to commit to the A321XLR at the Paris Air Show. Perhaps the only surprise is that it waited until the end of day 4 to make the announcement. The carrier converted 13 of its existing orders to the XLR for delivery in 2023 and beyond. The move came just a couple months after confirming that it will also take the A321LR, with 13 of those due starting late in 2020 or early 2021. The A321LR will fly on transatlantic routes, adding London service for the carrier. The updated order now means 26 planes capable of transatlantic service; the carrier had 85 A321neo aircraft on order as of July 2018, plus 69 A321ceo in the fleet.
Read More: JetBlue makes its London plans official
When the London service was announced JetBlue indicated that it wanted to eventually serve other cities in Europe as well. Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Madrid all appeared on a map the company showed to employees during the announcement. But the company wants more than just those cities. Undoubtedly it would have chosen the XLR for its conversion were those aircraft to be available earlier than 2023ish.
During the recent IATA Annual General Meeting CEO Robin Hayes once again talked about the company’s transatlantic plans and hinted at reaching deeper into Europe. At the time Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr quipped that his carrier was fortunate knowing that JetBlue’s planes cannot reach that deep into Europe. And they still cannot. But come 2023-ish that will change.
For JetBlue the map shows a range for the A321LR closer to 3200nm than the 4000nm advertised by Airbus, a limitation likely attributable to winter winds across the Atlantic and the increased weight of the premium cabin seating. Still, the increased range of the XLR opens up Frankfurt, Barcelona and many other cities as viable destinations for the carrier.
One potential challenge for JetBlue is the proliferation of subfleets within its A321 operations. The carrier will operate at least five different A321 configurations by 2023 when the XLRs start to join the operation. The company declined to offer insight into the subfleet issues, indicating only that it was “looking forward to our first LR delivery and launching service to London in 2021, as well as the additional benefits the XLR will bring when it is available.”
More from the 2019 Paris Air Show
- Airbus A321XLR: The future of single-aisle long-haul travel
- IAG makes a MAX move in Paris
- SmartSky boosts sales channel with Honeywell Aerospace VAR deal
- Different business models, same aircraft model: American, Frontier and JetBlue take on the A321XLR
- Boom’s supersonic timing slips
- Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet buys Bombardier’s support