Is The Airbus A321XLR The Boeing Killer?

Is the Airbus A321XLR and the broader A321 series the killer to Boeing's dominance in this sector as the American plane maker doesn't progress with the release of a new middle of the market airliner?

The Airbus A321XLR is an extended-range variant of the A321LR and, generally speaking, a further extension to the existing A321 platform. This series has proved hugely successful in recent years and mainly since its conception.

However, as direct competitor Boeing doesn’t move ahead with a genuine replacement to its 757 series and Airbus continues developing the A321 to variants such as the XLR, is this the killer of Boeing’s dominance in the sector?

Such highs experienced with performance over the aircraft go as far as the recent opening of a final assembly line in Toulouse, where the A380 was previously housed.

The Airbus A321XLR Launch

Launched in 2019, the A321XLR addresses the demand for more efficient aircraft while doing so as a single-aisle and offering a substantial extension on raise. As a result, prospective customers could utilise the capabilities to their advantage when deploying the plane to locations worldwide.

The enhancements of the XLR over the LR could be the difference for an airline such as JetBlue offering service from the East Coast of the United States to locations further West in Europe.

Several factors influenced Airbus’s decision to develop the A321XLR. Carriers increasingly sought aircraft to bridge the gap between single-aisle and twin-aisle models. However, all the while not losing essential factors such as range.

The A321XLRs range increase is possible thanks to adding a new fuel tank. While it has been often pitted for transatlantic flights thanks to its customer base, the XLR offers much more than that.

An overview of the Airbus A321XLR specifications and prospective routes that can be operated with customers.

Airbus Enjoys Success With The A321XLR Early On

The success of the A321XLR is evident through its strong reception. During its first week, the aircraft accumulated hundreds of orders from high-profile customers before entering the skies.

Interestingly, however, its capabilities have resulted in not just legacy but low-cost units, among many others, all seeing the appeal in acquiring it.

One key advantage of the A321XLR is its efficiency in serving point-to-point routes. While widebody aircraft traditionally dominated long-haul operations for some time, the trends are shifting. Despite this, widebodies are often the preferred method of travel for passengers. This can be down to several reasons, but primarily, the leading one is related to space.

The A321XLR Faces Some Criticism

Despite its success, the A321XLR has faced criticism, primarily centred around the fact that it is a single-aisle aircraft intended for longer-ranged flights.

Some industry experts and passengers argue that the narrower cabin of a single-aisle plane may result in a less comfortable experience on these extended journeys compared to widebody alternatives.

However, the A321XLR’s efficiency has outweighed these concerns for many airlines, especially those targeting point-to-point operations. The most significant portion of those booking these flights won’t consider the narrowbody vs widebody comparison for their flying experience.

Challenges In The Airbus A321XLR Certification

Apart from critics, Airbus has also encountered challenges during the development and certification process of the A321XLR, mainly related to the additional fuel tank.

This additional fuel tank is essential to providing the XLR with its range boost, its leading selling point over the existing LR. Certification issues arose over fire risks surrounding the fuel tank, requiring adjustments and modifications to ensure compliance with safety standards.

While causing some delays that see Airbus target a 2024 EIS for the type one year later than expected, these challenges aren’t just seen for this program and at this manufacturer.

Recently, and especially following the 737 MAX crisis, the certification process for new aircraft has only been increased as regulators inspect features with a finer microscope to ensure nothing slips through.

Is The A321 Series and The XLR A Boeing Killer?

The A321 series is labelled a game changer and an aircraft family that can be viewed as a threat to Boeing’s longstanding run in the market.

Why is this? Airbus’s continued development of the A321 places Boeing in a challenging position. Last year, Boeing executives commented on their highly rumoured and discussed new middle-of-the-market airliner, which was far from positive.

These executives outlined plans to abandon its proposed middle-of-the-market aircraft effectively. The plane maker would look to reassess and potentially return to the drawing board for such an aircraft in the 2030s.

Immediately, this left a gap that Airbus quickly exploited with the further development of its A321 series and intense selling pitches, among other initiatives. Airbus knows that it can pounce on this because of Boeing’s lack of a proper dedicated replacement for the 757 and even, in some instances, the 767.

Several customers had been holding out hope for Boeing to proceed with a new aircraft, even if a re-engine to act as a short-term solution to ageing planes released in the late 20th century. However, this didn’t happen.

The A321XLR’s success, among other variants in the A321 family, has allowed Airbus to dominate the middle-of-the-market segment, attracting customers who would have otherwise considered Boeing’s offering.

More importantly, this is also a segment that most analysts labelled in the late 2010s as highly lucrative, with a demand for thousands of units. This demand is proven monthly with new commitments and significant interest.

Daniel Fowkes
04 Dec 2023
· Aircraft 
· Analysis 

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