The A321XLR should make its first flight by the end of next month, kicking off the certification process. But Airbus now expects certification to take a bit longer than previously planned. As a result, the company anticipates delivery of the first XLRs to airlines in “early 2024” rather than the previously planned “end of 2023.”
Airbus currently holds orders for approximately 500 of the type. With its additional rear fuel tank and other design tweaks, the A321XLR offers the longest range of a single-aisle commercial aircraft. Airbus highlights London to Delhi and New York City to Rome as potential markets in is livery for the test unit.
Among the certification challenges, the new integrated center rear fuel tank presents safety concerns. A recent DOT regulatory filing explains some of the risks Airbus must account for and test against:
The tank is a “rear” tank, that would be located aft of the wheel bay; it would be in an area of the lower fuselage that partially replaces the aft cargo compartment of the airplane from which this proposed model is derived. The top of the tank would be directly below the floor of the passenger cabin. The fuel tank would be “integral” to the airplane, in that its walls would be part of the airplane structure. The exterior skin of the airplane fuselage would constitute part of the walls of the fuel tank, and these areas would lack the thermal/acoustic insulation that usually lines the exterior skin of an airplane fuselage.
The FAA proposes to require that the lower half of the airplane fuselage, spanning the longitudinal area of the tank, be resistant to fire penetration, as if “the fuselage were lined with thermal/acoustic insulation that meets the flame penetration resistance test requirements.”
Single-aisle production boost
Separately, Airbus also used its quarterly earnings release to indicate a rate boost for its single-aisle aircraft. The A320neo family currently is progressing towards 65 aircraft per month by next summer. Airbus now confirms it is “working with its suppliers and partners to enable monthly production rates of 75 in 2025.”
The A321neo family (A321neo, A321LR, A321XLR) is driving the increased demand, and Airbus will adjust its production approach to ensure it can deliver these planes to customers. All assembly sites will be updated to A321-capable as part of the effort.
Airbus will also “grow the industrial footprint” at its Mobile, Alabama site.
It is unclear if this means an additional FAL line or other expansion at the site. This will come in the form of a second final assembly line in the USA, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The increased production rate will “benefit the entire global industrial value chain,” according to Airbus. The airframer also notes that the decision was made only after consultation with suppliers to ensure that the increased rate can be supported with a consistent supply chain.
Increased production from Airbus comes against a backdrop of regulatory concerns at Boeing about the certification timeline for its 737 MAX 10 aircraft. The company concedes the MAX 10 is unlikely to be certified by the end of 2022, raising the prospect of shifted requirements.
The Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act, enacted in 2020, gave Boeing until the end of 2022 to have its planes certified under the prior rules. Missing that deadline would require Boeing to comply with a different set of rules, a shift that would likely further extend the certification timeline. It could also ask Congress for an extension on the rules change.
During the company’s quarterly earnings call last week CEO David Calhoun noted, “That legislation was never [intended] to stop the derivative product line…So I believe our chances are good with respect to getting legislative relief.”
A favor to ask while you're here...
Did you enjoy the content? Or learn something useful? Or generally just think this is the type of story you'd like to see more of? Consider supporting the site through a donation (any amount helps). It helps keep me independent and avoiding the credit card schlock.
Leave a Reply