IndiGo will introduce a third Airbus A320neo Family jetliner variant into service in 2024 when its new A321 Xtra Long Range (XLR) single-aisle jetliners start to arrive. The A321XLR is the latest and longest range variant of the A320neo Family and can seat up to 244 passengers, depending on the configuration selected. Crucially for IndiGo, the new aircraft can fly up to 8,700 km, staying in the air for up to 11 hours. This will allow the airline to open up newer and more profitable international destinations and further develop its network.
IndiGo is slated to take deliveries of its A321 XLRs starting 2024 when industry experts expect a revival in international air travel. The A321XLR will allow IndiGo to operate more efficiently on international routes against some of its competitors operating older, less-efficient aircraft. Importantly, along with the A321XLR’s enhanced efficiency and increased seating capacity, it will also deliver substantial training and maintenance related savings to IndiGo due to its commonality with the airline’s existingA320neo/ A321neo fleet. The A321XLR is estimated to cost $ 142 million (2018 list prices), though typically, airline customers negotiate significant discounts on these prices.
IndiGo skipped the A321LR, which can fly up to 7,400 km; instead, it opted for the A321XLR as part of its October 2019 order for 300 aircraft comprising of A320neo, A321neo and A321XLR aircraft. For Airbus, the A321XLR allows it to fill in the gap between its A220 and A320 single-aisle families and larger widebody A330neo and A350 XWB, in what is known as the ‘Middle of the Market’. IndiGo had earlier started operations with its 180 seat A320neos and 232 seat A321neos in March 2016 and December 2018, respectively.
Airbus is confident that its optimised Airspace cabin, which already is in service on A350 XWB and A330neo widebody aircraft and recently entered service on A320neo, will deliver the comfort demanded by passengers on flights longer than 4-5 hours. Wi-Fi connectivity options will also be offered to airline customers, along with gate-to-gate in-flight entertainment. In addition, its Airspace cabin on the A321XLR will introduce new ceiling lighting, new sidewall panels, a new lavatory design, new window bezels, and coloured LED lighting. The overhead storage compartment (called “XL bins”) will also have 40% more volume.
Apart from IndiGo, the A321XLR has been ordered by major carriers such as American Airlines, United Airlines, International Airlines Group (IAG), Air Asia X and Qantas. Vietnam’s Vietjet Air and Malaysia’s AirAsia X will be the early operators of the new type, with deliveries in 2023. Airbus has received over 450 orders and commitments from 22 operators and two lessors since the extended-range jetliner’s launch at Le Bourget in June 2019. However, some of these orders could now be impacted or delayed due to the disruption in international air travel due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Designed To Perform
The A321XLR is derived from Airbus’ A321LR variant and has an increased Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 101 metric tonne compared to A321LR’s 97 tonne MTOW. Airbus has also provided an optimised wing trailing-edge flap configuration, which improves low-speed performance to deliver the same take-off performance and engine thrust requirements as on smaller A321neo aircraft. To cater for the A321XLR’s 101 tonne MTOW, Airbus also strengthened the fuselage and main landing gear. The aircraft also features a new permanent Rear Centre Tank, which can carry 12,900 litres of fuel compared to the A321LR, which had two additional rear fuel tanks instead. Based on customer requirements, Airbus can also incorporate an additional forward centre fuel tank.
Airbus began assembly in July of the first A321XLR nose and front fuselage in France. This was less than two months after the structural assembly of the rear & centre fuselages in Germany. Martin Schnoor, Head, A321XLR Programme Development Airframe Programme, said, “This is a key milestone for the A321XLR. We are on track to support the aircraft’s entry into service by 2023.”
The final assembly of the first A321XLR flight test aircraft will begin in the fourth quarter of this year when the first fully assembled and equipped nose and front fuselage will be delivered from Airbus’ facilities Saint-Nazaire to Hamburg, which is the only European final assembly line to assemble the A321. Its new digitally-enabled A321 line, co-located at Airbus’s current A380 Lagardère facility in Toulouse, will also assemble the A321XLR and be ready by mid-2022.