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.
“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.
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.
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.