Airbus has secured certification from regulators in Europe and the United States for its A321LR to operate long-range flights, including over-water routes.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have certified the A321LR to operate with up to three underfloor additional centre tanks (ACT), Airbus said on Tuesday (European time).
Regulators also approved the A321LR to operate under 180-minute extended operations (ETOPS) rules.
The 180-minute ETOPS – which means the aircraft can be flown on a route that keeps it within three hours flying time on a single engine from an alternate airport in the event of an engine failure – was sufficient for the A321LR to perform any trans-Atlantic route, Airbus said.
The certification approved the “major change” of installing up to three options ACTs in the A321neo, which is already flying with a number of airlines, alongside new fuel management systems and lower-fuselage structural reinforcements, Airbus said.
Further, certification also covered the A321neo’s Airbus Cabin Flex (ACF), which offers a customised door configuration depending on the capacity requirements of the airline, and modified fuselage structure.
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 has said previously the A321neo ACF was available as an option today and would become standard for all A321neos in 2020.
The certification also covered the A321LR’s higher maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of up to 97 metric tonnes, compared with 93.5 tonnes for the A321.
“It should be noted that only A321neos which have the new ACF structure can offer the 97t MTOW and the ability to install three ACTs,” Airbus said.
“Previously, the A321 Family could accommodate up to two ACTs.”
The A321LR (which is also known as the A321neoLR) began flight testing earlier in 2018.
The aircraft has a maximum seating capacity of 244 passengers and a range of up to 4,000nm.
In a local context, that puts almost all of mainland Australia potentially within range from numerous cities in Asia such as Manila-Melbourne (3,397nm), Perth-Chennai (3,384nm), Singapore-Sydney (3,396nm) or Auckland-Denpasar (3,641nm).
As part of the 100-hour flight test program, the A321LR in March operated a nonstop flight from Mahe in the Seychelles islands to Toulouse, covering a total distance of 4,750nm in 11 hours.
In addition to the 16-member flight test crew, the cabin also included 162 “human heat-replicating dummy passengers”, Airbus said on April 11.
It was reported in June Airbus was considering enhancements to the A321LR that would increase the fuel carrying capacity and add extra range to the aircraft.
News that Airbus was studying further improvements to its largest-capacity narrowbody emerged as Boeing continued to evaluate a much-discussed but yet‑to‑be‑launched new mid-market airplane (NMA) that some have labelled the 797.
The Boeing study was focused on a two-aircraft family that would carry between 225-275 passengers anywhere from 4,500-5,000nm. It would be powered by an engine capable of producing 50,000lb of thrust.
That puts the NMA somewhere between Boeing’s largest narrowbody the 737 MAX 10, (3,215nm range with 230 passengers in a single-class layout), and its smallest widebody the 787-8 (7,355nm range with 242 passengers in a two-class configuration).
Entry into service was projected to occur in the 2024 to 2025 timeframe.
Boeing’s initial estimates for the NMA suggested there might be a market for about 4,000 aircraft. Some aviation analysts, who might define the market differently, have put forward a number closer to 2,500.
Industry estimates suggested Airbus’s A321neo was outselling the 737 MAX 9 by a factor of five to one, figures which prompted Boeing to respond with the MAX 10, which is scheduled to enter service in 2020.
Jetstar to get first A321LR in 2020
In a local context, Qantas announced in February 2018 it had ordered 18 A321LRs for its low-cost-carrier unit Jetstar, with the arrival of the first aircraft scheduled for mid-2020.
The A321LRs will be the first aircraft to be delivered from the Qantas Group’s longstanding order for 99 A320neo family aircraft, which will be powered by CFM LEAP 1-A engines.
At the time of the announcement, Qantas said the A321LR would be able to operate Jetstar’s Melbourne and Sydney to Bali routes, freeing up Boeing 787-8s to be redeployed to other destinations in China, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as Honolulu in the United States.
The A321LR would give Jetstar a flexible aircraft capable of operating domestically in Australia during the day and then an overnight international service from Australia’s east coast to Bali or an international route of similar stage length.
Jetstar group chief executive Gareth Evans said in August the A321LR could potentially also open up some new routes in addition to replacing the 787-8s on Bali.
Evans said there was much work and planning currently underway for the mid-2020 entry into service of the A321LR, which he described as a “small aircraft with a very competitive unit cost that can go a long way”.
“Our network people are having a field day trying to work out where the opportunities are and they’ve got a few ideas as well,” Evans told a CAPA – Centre for Aviation conference in Sydney.
Jetstar’s A321LR’s are the only order for the type in Oceania.
However, Air New Zealand was due to shortly receive the first of seven A321neo and six A320neo narrowbodies on order. The 13 aircraft will replace existing A320ceos currently being flown on trans-Tasman and Pacific Islands routes.
The New Zealand carrier also has seven A321neos on order for its domestic operations.
Philippine Airlines became the first operator to fly the A321neo to Australia on July 3, when flight PR221, operated by RP-C9930, touched down at Brisbane Airport a little after 0900, following its seven and a half hour journey from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
And Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) was the first to fly the A320neo to Australia when necessary engine inspections on its Boeing 787-8 fleet forced it to downgauge a couple of Bandar Seri Begawan-Melbourne rotations in August to the Airbus narrowbody.
VIDEO: A look at the A321LR’s first flight in January 2018 from Airbus’s YouTube channel.