Airbus unveiled the longer-legged A321XLR on the Paris Air Show's opening day, ending months of speculation. Backed by a firm order from MEA Middle East Airlines and an MoU from of Air Lease Corporation (ALC), the A321XLR boasts a range of 4,700 nm (in a two-class configuration seating 180 to 220 passengers), up from the A321LR's 4,000-nm. Deliveries are set to start in 2023.
According to Airbus CCO Christian Scherer, the A321XLR is the next “evolutionary step” from the A321LR and the “lowest risk aircraft” for thinner routes of 4,700 nm, a segment currently served by the Boeing 757. He vowed that the A321XLR will have a “whopping 30 percent reduction in fuel burn and thus CO2 emissions per seat compared to the 757.”
The XLR, he pointed out, will be able to fly nonstop from Beirut to Cape Town; Dublin to Recife or Nairobi; Japan to deep in Australia; deep in Europe to deep in North America; and vice versa. To accommodate its long-range missions, the A321XLR’s new "Airspace" cabin will offer seats in all classes with the same high-comfort as on long-haul widebody aircraft, including full-flat beds for premium passengers.
The A321XLR will have a maximum takeoff weight (mtow) of 101 tonnes versus 97 tonnes for the A321LR. Airbus said it needs to introduce only “minimal” changes to give the aircraft the longer range.
These changes include a new permanent rear center tank (RCT); a modified landing gear to account for the increased mtow; and an optimized wing trailing-edge flap configuration to preserve the same takeoff performance and engine thrust requirements as today’s A321neo. The new optimized RCT holds more fuel than the several optional additional center tanks (ACTs) on the A321LR and weighs the same as just one of the removable tanks.
This new arrangement also takes up much less space in the cargo hold and therefore frees up underfloor volume for additional cargo and baggage on long-range routes.
Scherer declined to disclose to AIN how many commitments or firm orders had been needed before the Airbus board signed off on the derivative XLR, saying only that it “is launched today.” He confirmed MEA was the first to commit to the XLR, with an order for four, and described the ALC memorandum of understanding indicated as a “true vote of confidence” as the lessors is a reference for many airlines in their fleet decisions.
ALC executive chairman Steve Udvar-Hazy said the U.S. lessor worked intensively with Airbus to ensure the aircraft would be fit for flights of up to nine hours with, for instance, bigger water tanks and larger waste capacity. He called ALC's commitment for 27 XLRs a “natural progression from the tremendous success we have with the A320neo family.” Meanwhile, ALC CEO John Plueger said he sees “a potential for 50 or so customers” coming on board to take on the aircraft in the next five years.
ALC’s commitment is part of a much larger MoU for a total of 100 Airbus single-aisle aircraft. The lessor is also buying—for the first time—50 A220-300s and an additional 23 A321neos, which can be substituted for LRs. This s this latest order takes ALC’s cumulative orders to 387 Airbus aircraft, making it Airbus’ third largest lessor customer.