An American Airlines A321-231 on final at LAX. AA could be a potential customer for the new A321 variant. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

American A321 on final at LAX. AA could be a potential customer for the new variant – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Airbus has done what analysts have been expecting for the past few months; announce a version of the A321 with the ability to fly a greatly extended range and finally match (and exceed) the capabilities of a Boeing 757-200 with winglets.

The 97-ton maximum weight will be achieved by the addition of a fuel tank in the forward baggage compartment and some fairly low-cost reengineering of the wing. Air Lease Corporation is the launch customer, with a memorandum of understanding for thirty frames. They have not, yet, stated where these aircraft will be placed.

To achieve a 4000-nm range, Airbus has envisioned a configuration carrying 206 passengers (16J and 190Y). They have also stated that, due to the extra fuel tank and limitations of the design, it is unlikely for this aircraft to be able to carry much cargo. This may, immediately, appear as a source of consternation if your airline relies on flying long sorties on narrow-bodies full of fresh fish. Otherwise, is it really a big deal? I would say no.

A United Airlines Boeing 757 at LAX - Photo: David Parker Brown

A United Airlines Boeing 757 at LAX. That’s our David Parker Brown on the tug.

There is a lot of surplus belly freight capacity in the world right now. Some say that there is such a surplus that the global belly-freight load factor is around 40%. Freight is also connection-agnostic. Will a lack of belly freight on routes served at the edge of the capability of the A321LR break routes currently served by a 757 with winglets? Not likely.

The simple difference in structural rates and heretofore unknown improvements in the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan will reduce the trip costs significantly – removing the need for revenue from cargo, which can connect onto one of the many wide-bodies out of larger airports served by the same airlines.

It is likely that long-haul A321LRs would have premium products like American's A321T - Photo: SouthpawCapture

It is likely that long-haul A321LRs would have premium products like American’s A321T – Photo: SouthpawCapture

There is one more quibble with the marketing. I highly doubt that we will see 206-passenger configured A321LRs. That foresees a business class with a pitch of 36″. Given that airlines need to remain competitive, we can assume that there will be lie-flat seats in the premium cabin. With the space those take up, I would imagine a seat count of 160-180 would be more realistic.

Regardless of seating capacity, Airbus sees a market for at least 400 97-ton payload A321s.

Any airline that currently operates 757s on long stage lengths could easily purchase these upgraded Airbuses.

So for fun, I’ve used Great Circle Mapper to make some fantasy maps. If you were Delta, American, or United (yes, I know their New York-area hub is EWR) this is what kind of operation the A321LR would allow you to operate. This aircraft may also finally push certain lower-cost airlines to diversify their market and thrust across the seas.

Note: all maps are still-air range. Realistically speaking, there are headwinds to fight and airspace considerations to route around. Real-world operational range will probably be closer to 3,600-nm.

4000nm from JFK in any direction. Image: Great Circle Mapper

4,000 nm from JFK in any direction – Image: Great Circle Mapper

The good thing about maps is that the reciprocal also holds true. Notice how all of Scandinavia is within the highlighted area of the mercator projection. Airlines like SAS could utilize the A321LR on more point-to-point flying into North America.

4000nm from Miami opens up the majority of South America. Image : Great Circle Mapper

4,000 nm from Miami opens up the majority of South America – Image : Great Circle Mapper

The North and South American carriers also have the luxury of using this aircraft to expand deeper into South America with an even smaller aircraft. From Miami, all the South American capitals are in reach.

4000nm from Paris opens up wide swathes of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Image: Great Circle Mapper

4,000 nm from Paris opens up wide swathes of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa – Image: Great Circle Mapper

Another use-case being thrown about on the aviation internet is that of it being useful for point-to-point flying into Africa and the Middle East from the major European hubs. This right-sized aircraft would allow the European legacy carriers a new way to compete with their Gulf Coast arch-rivals.

Hawaiian Airlines has sixteen A321NEOs on order, with nine options — what could 4,000 nm of range offer them?

4000nm from Honolulu International Airport. Image: Great Circle Mapper

4,000 nm from Honolulu International Airport – Image: Great Circle Mapper

While most of the 4,000 nm manifest is open sea, an aircraft with such range would allow Hawaiian to connect to more Southern Pacific island nations. It would also allow them to open up more cities within North America that do not have the traffic to sustain a larger aircraft.

4000nm from Abu Dhabi. Image: Great Circle Mapper

4,000 nm from Abu Dhabi – Image: Great Circle Mapper

To finish my little presentation of maps. Let’s take a look at what a 97-ton A321 could offer our friends in the Gulf. I chose AUH because Etihad already has a small fleet of A321s. For them, 4,000 nm, in any direction, puts them within reach of the majority of the world’s population. For an airline with connections in mind, the possibilities are endless.

The A321LR will make its debut in 2019, so I am afraid we have four years to wait to see what it can really do. In the interim, however we will see which customers actually purchase it.

Regardless of who orders it, if you lived in a secondary European city that sustained trans-Atlantic service using 757s, you no longer have to worry about your service disappearing as 757s slowly age out.

Boeing — your move.

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CONTRIBUTOR - SEATTLE, WA. Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience, and photograph different types of planes. He will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport. Email: bernie@airlinereporter.com.

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12 Comments

Back when the potential for this was announced I did some comparing of options for various hubs and what destinations would become more accessible thanks to the A321neoLR. It does very little for most US-based carriers in terms of opening up new markets, especially with the limited cargo. Yes, belly cargo is widely available right now but only really in markets with lots of widebody service. Planes like this are supposed to open new markets so that means opportunities for faster cargo delivery on the non-stop flights.

There are a few markets where it might work for AA, but it is hard to see this as much of a game-changer given lower capacity than the 752 (with a proper long-haul biz class) for comparable range.

You sort of sound like a douche. How about we see how the numbers play out? Might not be a big deal, but it might become one.

I’ve certainly been called worse. And it is hard to understand how a coherent comment pointing out specific markets and questioning the value proposition is so offensive to you. But thanks for reading.

Wow Harold. That’s a bit harsh. Someone piss in your cornflakes this morning?

Mark cassidy

Here is yet another plane that kills the A380! Looking at the middle east, I think the A321 would be a great compliment to the A380. There are many markets that you could serve that cannot handle the 380 let alone a 777 or even 788. You break in niche cities and connect them to Asia with out a European stop. I have to believe the A380 is running out of cities to develop.

Good article, excellent points and yes, the G.C. Mapper images help a lot.
I agree that the functional seat count will certainly be less than the max advertised by AB and for the reasons that you cite; flights of that duration really do need a bit more space!
Belly freight may be a cash cow profit, but don’t bank on much from the A321LR. While it MAY be able to carry some, it is much like tankering fuel; every ton has a fixed cost. Belly freight may limit occupied seats on some flights and/or absolute range. Even direction of travel, E. vs. W. impacts range. I’m sure it will be a good airplane, but I have to wonder if the in-service costs,(dollars per seat-mile.) will be better than the 787-8. I don’t know…

On a per-seat basis the 788 will almost certainly be less expensive to run at the max range of the 321LR. But the total cost for the 321LR is still likely lower. And so it becomes a question of how many seats you can fill in the marginal markets where these planes are focused.

Quasar59

I’m excited about the A321LR. Like the AUH example you mentioned, I think there are plenty of opportunities to be realised, especially in Southeast Asia or China. Even established carriers like Aer Lingus or Icelandair (though it has already ordered the 737MAX) could do wonders with them.

I just flew on a 757-200 round trip 3 1/2 hour trip each way domestic US. My God get rid of these already. No screens, no sound, horrible flat seats. I wonder if the airlines are just waiting for the next major maintenance event to retire these. After being on a newer 777 with the full entertainment center, flying one of these 757 antiques is really painful.

Go A321LR or the New Boeing Small Aircraft!

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Jeremy McMillen

I think an Airline like HA will buy some to fly to smaller cities or cities where there 763s or 330s are almost too big and expand to new cities like KABQ or KDAL (yes KDAL is a stretch but who knows they could easily fight AA on the routing)

I think HA might start a HNL-DTW or IND or CLE route or maybe Ryanair [if they ordered]could start a DUB or LGW to JFK or EWR route

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