Airbus has just announced that the latest member to the Airbus A320 family is at the final stage of assembly in Hamburg earlier this week. The first of the three testing aircraft with the Manufacturer Serial Number (MSN) 11000 is at the last stage of the assembly and it is planned to conduct a series of test flights in 2022. With over 200 orders from airlines around the world, the A321 XLR is expected to be in operations as early as 2023 and we cannot wait to see how it will shape the future of aviation, especially for Low-Cost Carriers (LCC).
So what is the Airbus A321 XLR?
The Airbus A321 XLR is a single-aisle wide-body airliner as an extension to Airbus’ best seller the Airbus 320 family. The XLR stands for Extra Long Range and it is able to cover a maximum range of 4700 nautical miles (8700km) while an average A320 has a range of 3300nm (6100km) with the A320LR (stands for Long Range) having a maximum range of 4000nm (7400km). The A320 family is the most widely used aircraft especially for LCC airlines to operate short-haul flights. Air Asia, one of the most successful LCCs in Asia, employs nearly 100 A320s with several hundred aircraft on its order list.
What makes the A321 XLR possible?
Multiple attempts of establishing long haul orientated LCC have been made but it was not possible economically until the introduction of the Boeing 787 and the Airbus 350 due to their superior range and fuel efficiency. The XLR might be the latest contender to this competition as it can cover the lower portion of the long-range market previously dominated by more fuel-consuming aircraft types such as the Airbus330 and the Boeing777. The capacity of 180 passengers on the XLR will give operators more flexibility to schedule compared to the previous aircraft types which have passenger capacity up to 400. With the XLR having more than a 15% increase on the maximum range of the LR, airlines can operate flights between cities like never before, especially for the Low-Cost Carriers (LCC). The XLR is designed with an additional Rear Centre Tank (RCT) to hold a capacity of 12,900 litres of fuel on top of the extra Additional Centre Tank (ACT). Currently, the RCT is being installed on MSN11000 with a modified landing gear produced by Safran in station 41 at the Hamburg assembly line. The rest of the components of the XLR are shared with the rest of the A320 family with the LEAP engines as the choice of power plant for its maximum range.
XLR Opening the Gate for Medium-Long Range LCC routes
The introduction of the XLR undoubtedly was one long-awaited for LCC airlines. The Vietnamese LCC Vietjet Air has 15 XLR aircraft orders with airbus to operate from Vietnam to Moscow and Melbourne. Before the arrival of the XLRs, the airline is planning to use A330s to operate the routes. The average fuel consumption per seat of an A330 for medium-haul flights is about 2.98L/100km while the XLR can offer the fuel consumption of 2.43L/100km and this is assuming a full flight. Any empty seat will add pressure to increase the fuel consumption of the operation. This significant increase in profit margin combined with same-fleet scheduling advantages may just be what A320 operators need to establish a new niche in the medium-long haul market.