Airbus A321LR makes first flight

First flight of the Airbus A321LR at Hamburg. (Airbus)
First flight of the Airbus A321LR at Hamburg. (Airbus)

Airbus’s first long range A321LR narrowbody has completed its maiden flight, bringing the aircraft a step closer to perhaps being seen in Australia.

The first flight of the A321LR, MSN7877, powered by two CFM Leap-1A engines, took place from Airbus’s Hamburg facility, with the six-person flightcrew testing the aircraft’s flight controls, engines and main systems including flight envelope protections, both at high and low speed, during the two hours and 36 minutes spent in the air, Airbus said in a statement on Thursday (European time).

The aircraft’s livery features Paris’s iconic Eiffel Tower and New York’s equally recognisable Statue of Liberty on the fuselage to illustrate the aircraft’s transatlantic flight capability.

The A321LR is expected to undergo about 100 hours of flight testing. Certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected in the second quarter of calendar 2018, with entry into service before the end of the year.

Airbus celebrates the first flight of its A321LR at Hamburg. (Airbus)
Airbus celebrates the first flight of its A321LR at Hamburg. (Airbus)

“Thanks to its outstanding performance and unbeatable efficiency, the A321LR will allow our customers to perform flights of up to 4,000nm, allowing them to open new routes – for example trans-Atlantic – and conquer new markets,” the head of Airbus’s A320 programme Klaus Roewe said in a statement.

The A321neo has received 1,920 orders, according to the Airbus website, which does not break down orders into A321neo and A321LR variants.

Locally, the Qantas Group has 99 LEAP-powered A320neos on order (comprising 54 A320neos and 45 of the larger A321neo) for its Jetstar low-cost carrier operations, with first delivery expected in the second half of 2018.

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has ordered 13 A320neo family aircraft – nine A320neos and four A321neos – powered by the PW1100G and due for delivery at some point in the 2018/19 financial year.

Tigerair Australia is also an A320 operator. However, the Virgin Australia-owned low-cost carrier is transitioning to the Boeing 737-800.

An A321LR infographic. (Airbus)
An A321LR infographic. (Airbus)

The A321LR, which has a maximum takeoff weight of 97 tonnes, features optional extra fuel tanks to enable the aircraft have a range of up to 4,000nm.

This puts almost all of mainland Australia within range from numerous cities in Asia such as Manila-Melbourne, Perth-Chennai or Singapore-Sydney.

One operator that has publicly expressed a desire to operate the A321LR to Australia is Philippine Airlines, which highlighted Brisbane-Manila as one of the first routes with the long-range narrowbody as far back as late 2016.

Philippine Airlines has ordered 21 A321neo aircraft, without breaking down the order into A321neo and A321neoLR variants, according to the Airbus website.

However, aviation thinktank CAPA – Centre for Aviation’s Blue Swan Daily website reported in October 2017 that six PAL A321neo aircraft would feature auxiliary centre fuel tanks.

Deliveries of the A321neo to Philippine Airlines were due to begin in February/March 2018, with eight expected to be in the fleet by the end of calendar 2018.

While Philippine Airlines announced in January it would launch nonstop flights to Brisbane from March 27, it would do so with A340-300 widebodies initially before transitioning the route to the A321neo later in 2018.

It was also expected to use the A321neo to increase frequencies on its Melbourne and Sydney services, which are currently served with a mix of A330 and A340 equipment.

The A321neo also features Airbus Cabin Flex (ACF), which allows a customised door configuration depending on the capacity requirements of the airline.

At its maximum 240-seat configuration, the A321neo ACF has three sets of standard doors (Doors 1 at the front of the aircraft, Doors 3 aft of the wing and Doors 4 at the rear) as well as two sets of over wing exit doors.

This compares with the four sets of standard doors on the current A321ceo/A321neo variants now flying.

Meanwhile, airline customers are able to order the aircraft with one or both sets of overwing exit doors deactivated, with four sets of standard doors or with Doors 3 deactivated, should they not require the full 240-seat capability of the A321neo ACF.

An graphic of the Airbus A321neo ACF. (Airbus)
An graphic of the Airbus A321neo ACF. (Airbus)

Airbus said the A321neo ACF was available as an option today and would become standard for all A321neos around 2020.

In December, Delta Air Lines ordered 100 A321neo ACF aircraft. Others to have put pen to paper for the type included Turkish carrier Pegasus for 25 aircraft and Qatar Airways for 50 aircraft.

The A321neo competes with the Boeing 737 MAX 10, which is configured to fly 3,215nm with 230 passengers in a single-class layout, at the top end of the narrowbody market.

The flight crew emerge after completing the maiden flight of the A321LR at Hamburg. (Airbus)
The flightcrew emerge after completing the maiden flight of the A321LR at Hamburg. (Airbus)

Comments

  1. Lechuga says

    I don’t believe Qantas or Virgin will pick this up, however I do believe this plane is near perfect for runs from Gold Coast and Cairns to Tokyo, Newcastle to Singapore (realistically the A321neo is good for most cities to Singapore besides Sydney and Melbourne with the A380 &A330s) could cover Perth to Auckland/Christchurch. Melbourne/Sydney to Denpasar or Jakarta.

    I just believe the A321neo family in general would be near perfect for Australia, even transcontinental replacing the wide bodies. Just depends if any are smart enough to pick it up or they want to mess around with the 737 family still.

    (Just a disclaimer I’m still a big 737 fan, just looking at the A321 logistically)

  2. David says

    This looks to be a good aeroplane. Qantas and Virgin would be wise to add it to their fleets. Having said that, convincing the die hard twin aisle fan club may prove difficult.

  3. Ben says

    This is good news. However I wonder when an actual new model aeroplane will be launched for the narrow body market by either Airbus or Boeing. I know both models have had upgrades (NG, MAX, NEO etc.) however the basic core design of the actual aircraft themselves is 30+ years for the A320 family and 50+ years for the 737 family. I know a middle of the market semi wide body may come to fruition but what about an actual replacement model with a clean sheet design of a narrow body airliner. The last time Boeing flagged a new model replacement for an old model in the narrow body market, was when it launched the 757 as a 727 replacement in the late 1970s. Airbus has only ever had the A320 so surely we’re overdue for complete new model replacements?

    Then again if both manufactures know they’re on to a good thing, why not stick to it.

  4. Australiana says

    If only Qantas had kept Australian Airlines they could have made a great leisure airline hub in Cairns to places like Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, Seoul, Vietnam, and multiple Chinese cities with the A321-LR.
    I think this aircraft would be perfect.

  5. Doug bell says

    This aircraft could be a serious contender for QF on say Syd/ChCh, or thinner Brisbane Asian routes, but alas I am not confident in the decision making of the board or senior management team. They think it appropriate to separate under 12 yo children from their parents on international flights

  6. James says

    @ Lechuga

    It will only depend on what price Boeing offer QF. Virgin has already ordered the MAX. I’m not sure if you get it, but although the 321 is a great machine, there are SO many added costs running 737’s alongside A320’s (ask Ansett). The main thing being pilots and engineering spares.

    The MAX 10 will do a similar job to the 321NEO and I can guarantee you, almost bet you, that Boeing will be extremely competitive on pricing towards QF. Considering history, the most likely 777-8x order and the ongoing orders for the 787.

  7. Arkair says

    I agree with Lechuga above. Perfect aircraft for routes to Asia and Pacific from smaller Australian cities but unlikely Qantas would buy them unless they decided to switch from Boeing to Airbus for Domestic as well.
    Jetgo with its Brisbane – Karratha – Singapore route and Fly Pelican/Alliance witn Newcastle – Adelaide have shown that the smaller airlines may surprise! Both seem to have big plans. Maybe there may be more surprises coming! They are prepared, unlike Qantas, to fly to other destinations than Sydney. Imagine If Jetgo had a321s flying to Singapore from Canberra, Hobartor Alice springs!!!!

  8. Chris says

    Great news. The A321LR is Airbus move into the B757 market, after Boeing stopped production on the B757. There a good number of European carriers including Eazyjet, looking at using the A321LR for the trans Atlantic market between Europe and east coast of Canada/USA.

    I do agree, that the A321LR would be great between Australia and Asia and Perth and Adelaide to NZ and South Pacific Islands.

    Airbus is stilling looking at the A322, being a extended fuselage version of the A321LR with bogie under carriage, carrying up to 260 passengers. Airbus sees good market for this type of aircraft since Boeing has neglected to cater for.

  9. Marty says

    I just hope they have put fuel pumps in the auxiliary tanks as opposed to the jet pumps in the current ACTs. Takes forever to transfer fuel on the ground and troubleshooting any problems in the ACTs is a nightmare!

    This is purely a maintenance point of view. Other than that, it’s a great aircraft.

  10. Craigy says

    @ Australiana Qantas still owns the rights to Australian Airlines and did in fact use it in the early 2000s using B763 aircraft mostly out of Cairns to Japan.

    @Chris Airbus already have a bogie design for the A320 family having used it for a small number of A320 aircraft for use in India from memory.

    @ LeChuga If Qantas doesn’t pick them up Jetstar may for thinner tourist/low cost routes into Asia and even the Pacific.

    @Arkair./James Qantas can still purchase the A321LR and not necessarily change from Boeing for their short haul aircraft. With Jetstar set to operate the NEOs, there is sufficient scale within the Qantas group for training and engineering not to have an adverse affect on operating costs.

    @Arkair. Have a look at the Qantas route map, they just don’t fly internationally to Sydney.

  11. James says

    @ Craigy

    Take that argument to the current mainline crews. There’s already big union talks underway between them with the Jetconnect saga.

    Just because JQ operate it does not mean that QF will jump. I suspect they will try to keep it as separate as possible.

  12. Craigy says

    @ James My point was that there is sufficient resources through Jetstar that Qantas could operate a number of A321LR without the costs a small fleet would entail. Either way, the short haul fleet replacement project outcome is going to be interesting given that Boeing’s middle of the market offering will probably be spec’d by then and on offer to the airlines.

  13. Holden says

    This (along with Boeing’s MoM / NMA, and perhaps B73MAX10) is exactly the type of aircraft needed to make viable a slew of international routes from regional Australian cities – Hobart, Canberra, Newcastle, Sunshine Coast, and Townsville in particular.

    The question remains – will any airlines, particularly local / regional carriers decide to equip precisely to explore this service void? It would be the equivalent of what Airnorth and JetGo have being trying to achieve domestically – good old fashioned hub-busting using equipment of a more suitable scale. By equipping with E135/145/175, these non-trunk domestic routes have become viable. Why not the same with A321NEO/LR, Mom/NMA, MAX10 or even B752?

    All of the airlines seem to just want the low hanging fruit – the ‘thin routes’ from hubs like SYD/MEL/BNE – they must believe they have a buffer against failure when the population catchment is more than 2 million. The funny thing is, if everyone aims for that low-fruit market it becomes over-supplied very quickly and the airlines have to rationalise their capacity – invariably exiting just as quickly as they came.

    What about taking on the thin routes from Australian cities that aren’t hubs – connecting directly into SE Asia and NZ? No airline has been brave enough to really tackle this holistically – and in some respects, despite their physical dislocation, all of these cities could be seen as a single exploitable market if one carrier wanted to make the running.

    Australia’s pax yield model that the airlines cling to seems bizarre – unless there are 50,000+ pax per annum, airlines don’t want to touch the route, and will steadfastly route everything via the principle hubs like MEL/SYD/BNE. In the northern hemisphere there are a vast number of direct long-thin international routes (both charter and RPT) with much lower pax numbers – that run either seasonally or year round – many of which amount to no more than 1-2 narrow body jets a week.

  14. random says

    @Holden

    Exactly – where is the carrier that wants to exploit the non-hub void?
    Where is the move to equip specifically for this purpose?

    Most if not all of these regional cities are crying out for a carrier that wants to make the running.

    B772 and A332 are too large, but this next layer of aircraft with 3500nm+ range and multi-class pax config below 200 seats would likely make these international routes possible.

  15. Lechuga says

    Another possibility for this aircraft could be Avalon to Singapore (Avalon becoming an international airport this year)

    People from Geelong would like to not travel into Melbourne, people from Werribee heading southwest rather than north and people from Ballarat wanting to avoid going into Melbourne as well. It could work pretty well.

  16. James says

    They will do it when they can. They don’t necessarily need A321’s to do so. The 26k 737-800’s are fairly capable, enough to try most routes on offer.

    It costs a lot just to try these new route pairings. Both carriers won’t waste money having a look. They use current data to see where connecting passengers are going, how often, where are they getting off, are those markets sustainable (ie tourism/industry in the area is on the rise).

    Constantly taking pot shots will only end in disaster. I know you guys and girls are thinking positive, with great ideas. But, new routes have to be carefully planned and managed. If the numbers work, they will do it. If it’s cheaper to route people through a hub, thrn that’s the way it will probably be.

    Let’s not forget the cost to pax. TSV-SIN as an example. If a connecting flight via BNE cost less than going direct, you would use that. Plus, because there would no doubt be more flights, the direct flight times may not suit everyone. Before you know it, the flight isn’t used because of times and “they” are having to squeeze it into the already tight schedule.

    As I said, if demand was there it would happen.

  17. Rod Pickin says

    Whilst I applaud the arrival of the latest A321 and its capabilities we have to get real folks. It is not a full service aircraft for international ops. Yep, for LCC’s magic but for say BNE HNL, or similar,,8 plus hours down the back of the bus, you have to be joking.

  18. Chris says

    For Craigy – Yes, there is a bogie main under carriage design option for the A320’s mainly used by Air India, hence Airbus looking at the A322 option being a stretched version of the A321neo/A321LR. Apparently Eazyjet, Delta, Norwegian Air, aircraft lessors, European LLC’s and tour charter airlines are keen on a A322 model, as there is currently nothing available in the ‘B757’ type market.

  19. MIke says

    The graphic showing the door/exit configurations and options as supplied by Airbus doesn’t make sense!
    Reading the paragraph directly above the graphic clearly explains the fact that one of the two overwing exit pairs has an option of being deactivated as well as an option to deactivate door 3.
    The graphic detail columns however, on the right, reading down, repeat “Door 4” and “Door 1” below “Over Wing Exit 2” where they should have “Door 3” and “Door 4” respectively.
    As it stands the graphic suggests Door 4 can be deactivated as an option. That is not an option! The graphic as shown doesn’t even mention Door 3.
    Did Airbus really provide this dodgy graphic?! I hope they take more care building their planes! Details do matter!