The launch of the A321XLR is expected later this year, a decision that will have repercussions for the B797 and potentially the A321LR.
The launch of the A321XLR would see the range of the aircraft increase by more than 500 nautical miles – possibly 700 – compared to the A321LR potentially reaching 5,000 nautical miles. This would allow the A321 to fly to more routes between Europe and the USA as well from the Middle East to Asia and Europe. The Maximum Take-Off Weight would likely increase to at least 100 tonnes and all three auxiliary tanks would be needed and possibly some extra fuel tankage. The landing gear also needs strengthening. Airbus is possibly seeking commitments for 200 aircraft before launching. Operators such as Lufthansa, Air Malta, Air Canada and IAG have already expressed an interest in the aircraft. Some operators will be seeking the additional range to ensure that routes can still be flown in less than favorable conditions, such as during strong headwinds or to maximize the number of passengers at hot/high airports. Such an evolution of the A321 would make it a real replacement for the B757 as well as representing a concern for Boeing in its pursuit of the B797 which is due to enter service in 2025, years after the A321XLR will be available. The additional value of the A321XLR would likely be some $2 million compared to the A321LR thus taking the value to $64 million. The values assigned to the B797 will therefore need to carefully consider the implications of the A321XLR.
The use of the A321XLR – a narrowbody – on eight hour flights is an issue that may be viewed as a concern in terms of passenger perceptions. In most passenger surveys such a flight would clearly favor a widebody given the feeling of space even in economy. There is no reason however, why the same seats that are used on widebodies should not be used on the A321XLR which suggests that the configuration does not have to be significantly different from other A321s which will improve remarketing – and operations. Airlines will need to ensure that the aircraft can also be used on non long haul services should the need arise in the event of a number of A321s are in the fleet. Passengers will be seeking to fly on aircraft that offer the best ticket price. Just as the A340-500 proved, offering an all premium service on ultra long haul flights makes it considerably more difficult to achieve a profit. Operators will therefore not be wishing to offer a configuration that offers too much comfort.