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How successful is Airbus with the A321 XLR?

Half a year ago Airbus introduced the A321 XLR. It is selling well and airlines are using it to open new routes. Airbus is also profiting from Boeing's weakness.

Every month, Airbus gives an insight into its order book. Most recently, it showed that by the end of November orders had been received for a total of 3201 units of the A321 Neo. What the numbers don’t reveal, however, is how many of these aircraft are A321 XLR. The jet has the longest range of the A320-Neo-family due to an additional central fuel tank.

Now the European aircraft manufacturer has given away a number: There are as of now firm orders and letters of intent for more than 450 A321 XLR’s. They come from 22 airlines and two leasing companies. Customers include United Airlines, American Airlines, Qantas, Iberia, Middle East Airlines, Vietjet, Air Asia X, Sky Airline, Flynas and Air Arabia.

NMA not yet in sight

Airbus had unveiled the A321 XLR at the Paris Air Show in June. At the show, the aircraft manufacturer already presented orders and letters of intent for 229 aircraft, 87 of which are conversions from existing orders for the A320 Family. All these orders came from eleven customers. Since then, Airbus has thus far won orders and letters of intent for at least 221 additional jets from 13 additional customers.

The European manufacturer also benefits from the fact that Boeing – currently busy with the recertification of the 737 Max and the delays with the 777 X – has still not decided whether the so-called New Middle of the Market Aircraft NMA will actually be built. For airlines that don’t want to wait any longer, the A321 XLR is currently unrivalled as an aircraft with only one gear but a long range.

Flights to India and the USA

One example of this was the order for 50 A321 XLRs placed by United Airlines in early December. The American airline has always been very impressed by the first concept studies for Boeing’s NMA, nicknamed 797 in the industry. The airline would have liked to order the aircraft to replace the oldest of its Boeing 757 and 767. Now, however, 53 Boeing 757-200s are being replaced at United by the 50 Airbus planes.

However, not all airlines plan to use the XLR as a replacement for aircraft on existing routes. Many customers also want to venture on new routes with it. The Chilean Sky Airline, for example, wants to use its ten aircraft just ordered to fly to destinations outside South America for the first time, namely the USA. Hungary’s Wizz Air is taking delivery of 20 A321 XLRs and will use them for its first long-haul flights. India is a potential destination. Air Malta does not want to buy an XLR, but would like to lease two – and is targeting India as well, as well as the USA.

How will Icelandair decide?

There are other airlines that are potential A321-XRL customers. Air-Baltic CEO Martin Gauss, for example, said in an interview with aeroTELEGRAPH that his airline was the «perfect operator» for the model. Although the airline is currently busy converting its entire fleet to Airbus A220-300, Air Baltic could possibly go on long-haul flights with the A321 XLR in a few years.

Icelandair could become a very important customer in the competition between Boeing and Airbus. The airline Has so far been a pure Boeing operator and have to find replacements for their aging Boeing 757s. They would be the ideal NMA customer for the US manufacturer. But how long will the airline wait? If, in the end, it does order the jet from Airbus, which is to go into service in 2023, that would be a great success for the Europeans.

Too inconvenient for Qatar Airways

However, there are also airlines that clearly do not want to become XLR customers. For example, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, when asked by aeroTELEGRAPH during a round of journalists at the Paris Air Show, said: «We are not interested in XLR». He said that the Airbus A321 LR ordered would be used on many routes with a flight time of up to seven hours. For longer flights he doesn’t like the XLR. «It will be very uncomfortable for the passengers», said Al Baker.

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