How the Airbus A321XLR will revolutionize air travel

First held in 1909, the Paris Air Show is the largest aerospace-industry exhibition event in the world, based on the number of exhibitors and size of exhibit space.

Being held every odd year, the 53rd show took place on the 17th of June in 2019, attracting about 2,500 exhibitors from 49 countries. It was during this show when Airbus announced an upgrade to its single-body A321neo aircraft, called the A321XLR
Airbus A321neo XLR

A321XLR, where XLR stands for Xtra Long Range, is targeting a similar level of occupancy of about 200-220 passengers in a two class cabin configuration. However, most importantly, the upgrade will be increasing the range of the A321neo from 7,400 km to 8,700 km with the same efficiency. This is about an 18% increase. This slight upgrade, as small as it may seem, is about to transform air travel for the foreseeable future.

The aircraft has already received many orders from airlines such as United, American Airlines, Qantas, and IndiGo. Airbus projects that the aircraft will amass more than 1,000 orders by the end of this decade having already received about 500 orders so far, despite the current pandemic.

What makes this plane unique and why is this plane projected to be so successful?

What is an Middle of the Market Aircraft (MMA)?

And why it is important
In order to understand why the aircraft is so popular among airlines, we must first understand the market this aircraft appeals to. The A321XLR is situated in what is referred to as the middle of the market when it comes to passenger capacity.

Traditionally, there have been two types of passenger aircraft: Narrow-body aircraft, which refers to planes with a single aisle, usually carry up to 200 passengers in a two-class cabin configuration. On the other end, wide-body planes have two aisles and usually carry more than 250 passengers in cabin configurations where there is more than one class.

The middle of the market is the gap between the largest narrow-body and smallest wide-body aircraft. This is generally the 200-250 seater segment. This segment sits between that of narrow-body aircrafts such as the A320 and Boeing 737, and that of the wide-body aircrafts such as the 777 and A350’s. Currently, the only aircraft that are in service that offer a capacity in this middle range are the aging 757 and 767 aircrafts, which are in the twilight years of their service having been flying for almost 40 years now.
A321XLR Qantas><meta itemprop=
Qantas Airways Limited’s agreement with Airbus for 36 A321XLR jetliners will allow Australia’s Qantas Group to improve its network and fleet flexibility
Boeing estimates that there will be a demand for around 2,000-4,000 aircraft in this market over the next 20 years.
Expected to hit the market in 2023, the A321 XLR slots into this range with a capacity of 200-220 passengers and taps into a market that is currently occupied with aircraft in need of replacement.

There were a total of 1,050 757’s and 1,200 767’s ever built, all of which are near the end of their service and will need replacing in the near future. This market is also expected to see vast demand in Southwest Asia with its growing population. The demand for air travel is also expected to skyrocket in the area in the coming decades.
However, what makes XLR unique is not only where it fits in terms of passenger capacity; but, being the plane with the longest range in that segment.

Variety of new routes that were not feasible before

That are out of the range of single-aisle aircrafts and sans the capacity demand for larger, double-aisle ones
Apart from the aging narrow-body 757’s and smaller wide-body 767’s, XLR carves itself a unique space, becoming a high-end single aisle with the longest range. This increased range on the A321 XLR compared to the previous generation and the A321neo opens up a variety of new routes.

The aircraft achieves this increased range thanks to an increased maximum takeoff weight which allows the addition of a new Rear Center fuel tank.

It has a range of 8,700 km, roughly the distance between New York and Istanbul (an 11 hour flight), which allows the aircraft to fly a variety of new routes such as New York to Rome, Miami to Buenos Aires, and Hong Kong to Canberra that the previous generation Middle of the Market airplanes could not.

The efficiency of the aircraft over a long range also allows new routes to come to life. These routes that are out of the range of conventional single aisle aircrafts and don’t have the capacity demand to be served by larger double aisle wide-body aircrafts, can be added to the route map of airlines. Some examples include Washington DC-Venice, Dublin-Houston, New York-Zagreb, and Honolulu-Melbourne. None of these routes have the demand to fill a double aisle A330 or 787, but with the smaller capacity of the A321XLR they would be able to fill the plane.

Future of Air Travel

In a post COVID-19 environment
Due to its smaller capacity, the A321 XLR can be used on both high demand domestic routes and low demand transatlantic routes. We have seen airlines such as United employ their 757 fleet on similar routes, where they arrive in Newark from high demand domestic routes (usually red eye flights) and then fly onto the British isles to destinations such as Edinburgh, Manchester, and Dublin with short stopover time. With the versatility the A321 XLR will provide, airlines will be able to use the aircraft on a variety of different routes thus increasing the potential use of the aircraft.

Passengers may not be fond of the idea of flying longer distances in a narrow-body airplane, but if that is the only non-stop option eliminating a connection and potentially a cheaper one, they may very well opt for that.

However, the most important consideration is the future of air travel. The Covid-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on air travel with the demand for air travel not expected to reach pre pandemic heights in the coming years.

A smaller plane with the range required to fly both domestic and international routes with incredible efficiency may be key to airlines as they recover from the pandemic.
JANUARY 28, 2021
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