Airbus delays Entry Into Service of the A321XLR to 2024

Airbus last night declared its Q12022 results. The net income for the first three months of 2022 rose to Euro 1.22 billion (~ USD 1.28 billion) as the OEM delivered an increased number of jets to airlines as the airlines recovered from the worst of the pandemic. On the back of that rise in deliveries, revenue rose 15% from a year earlier to 12 billion Euros.

Airbus plans to ramp up A320 production.

For the record, Airbus delivered 142 commercial jets in the first three months of the year compared to 125 deliveries in the first three months of 2021. And as it should be no surprise, most of these are narrowbody aircraft:

  • 11 A220
  • 109 A320 Family
  • 6 A330
  • 16 A350 

Airbus says it is on target to deliver 720 commercial aircraft throughout the year.

Airbus recognises the demand for narrow-body planes and has been talking about increasing the throughput of narrow-body jets for a while. This is not a new statement, and Guillaume Faury has been talking about a ramp-up even before the trends of a good revival were seen by the others. Guillaume was just the guy with the crystal ball, catching the recovery before others did.

Airbus has said it plans to speed up the production of its A320neo family of planes (that compete with Boeing 737 MAXs) to 75 per month by 2025. Airbus had, in May 2021, signalled the uptick and had mentioned that it intends to take forward the production to 64 A320family aircraft by mid-2023, a number that is now being put at 65. Currently, Airbus produces 43 A320family jets per month.

On the other hand, Boeing makes 30 737 MAX aircraft per month at the moment and intends to crank up its monthly production rate to 47 by the end of 2024.

Airbus XLR will see delayed entry into service.

The Airbus A321XLR, of which IndiGo is a significant customer, will see a delayed entry into service. This will be the most extended range of narrow-body aircraft globally, allowing them to operate point-to-point flights that weren’t previously viable, with a range of up to 4,700 nautical miles. Airbus will achieve this by adding a new fuel tank in the aircraft’s rear, called the Rear Center Tank (RCT). Usually, fuel is stored in the wings and centre of the plane (which also aids the aircraft balancing).

The most significant difference between the XLR and A321neo and A321LR is the Rear Center Tank (RCT) which gives the XLR its 4.700nm/8.700km range. The tank’s position is subject to special attention from the regulators, especially after Boeing expressed concerns about the fire protection of the tank, which is right under the cabin. EASA stated that it would likely require extra measures to guarantee the safety of the tank in the event of a fire. This could include additional insulation that would increase the weight of the XLR, potentially affecting its unique selling point – its range.

The earlier plan was to have the aircraft enter service in late 2023. However, this has moved to 2024 now. Airbus states there are certification requirements from its regulator, the EASA, making it difficult for the OEM to meet the earlier timeline. EASA is worried about the fire risk that comes into the picture from the extra fuel tank being added to the A321 aircraft and wants Airbus to work on reducing the risk.

The delay should not be too much of a worry since a slight delay on timelines is usual, and airlines would have already, perhaps, factored it into their launch plans with the aircraft.

The A321XLR, the first of which was assembled recently, has just come out of the paint shop, and Airbus has put up the London to New Delhi decal on one side of the first airframe to showcase the range of the jet.

Airbus will start the test flight campaign with this aircraft, with the first flight intended to be conducted within Q22022 itself. Another two aircraft will join the test flight campaign shortly.

Bottomline

Airbus seems to be all set to cash in on the upsurge in air travel, with more aircraft being supplied. However, the A321XLR has a slight hitch on the timelines as of now, on account of the concerns expressed by the regulators.

What do you think of the A321XLR, apart from the obvious, I am not flying long haul on a narrowbody aircraft?


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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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