On Wednesday, Airbus announced that its newest narrowbody aircraft model, the Airbus A321LR, had completed its maiden flight test, the first step in the aircraft’s certification process. The test aircraft, MSN7877, flew for 2 hours and 36 minutes over the skies of Europe with a crew of six to test the aircraft’s capabilities, according to a press release from the European manufacturer.
During the short flight, the flight crew tested the aircraft’s flight controls, engines and main systems to ensure the aircraft is ready to begin its certification testing. Having passed its initial flight test, the aircraft will begin certification testing in order to obtain both FAA and EASA Type Certification. Test flights for the certifications, including transatlantic flights, will begin in Q2 2018.
The Airbus A321LR, the LR standing for Long Range, is the updated version of the manufacturer’s popular single-aisle jet, the A321. The largest member of the A320 family, the A321 has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few years. Over the years, Airbus has fitted the aircraft with new updates such as sharklets and a fuel-efficient engine option, aimed at lowering flight costs for operators.
New additions to the aircraft include new CFM International LEAP-1A engines, a new door configuration that removes the second loading door, an increased maximum takeoff weight, and a third additional center fuel tank to extend the range of the aircraft. The A321LR will also feature the black cockpit window shades found on the Airbus A350 series aircraft.
Range, however, is the key selling factor. According to Airbus, the A321LR can fly up to 4,000 nautical miles. It can serve such routes as New York to Paris, Dubai to Beijing, and Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur. The aircraft is able to fly that range while also consuming 20 percent less fuel per seat, making this aircraft popular for low-cost airlines and on low-demand routes deemed unprofitable with conventional aircraft.
The new airplane will also feature Airbus’ new cabin interior option, Airspace by Airbus, which aims to reimagine the traveling experience in the cabin, similar to Boeing’s Sky Interior. As the aircraft will be operating long-haul flights up to nearly 10 hours, the new interior aims to ease the burden of long-haul travel on a single-aisle aircraft.
The new aircraft comes at a time when low-cost airlines are looking for ways to save money while buying up new fuel-efficient airplanes such as the A321LR for new, previously unserviceable routes. European low-cost airline Primera Air, for example, is using the aircraft as the backbone for its new low-cost transatlantic routes between European cities Paris, London, and Birmingham and North American cities Newark, Boston, and Toronto.
Primera plans to launch its first flights in April with fares as low as $99 one-way, formerly unprecedented for transatlantic travel, thanks to the fuel efficiency of the A321LR. The airline plans to utilize the aircraft to its fullest extent, with flight times in excess of 8 hours. The longest flight for the aircraft is from Toronto, Canada to Paris, France coming in at 7 hours and 30 minutes and 3,260 nautical miles.
In a statement, Klaus Roewe, Head of the A320 program at Airbus, stated, “Thanks to its outstanding performance and unbeatable efficiency, the A321LR will allow our customers to perform flights of up to 4,000nm, allowing them to open new routes – for example transatlantic – and conquer new markets.”
Currently, Icelandic low-cost airline WOW Air uses its A321neos, with comparable range and engine offerings as the A321LR, on some of its longest routes, occasionally filling in for its Airbus A330. Earlier this month, WOW Air flew from its hub at Keflavik International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport nonstop using the aircraft, considered the longest recorded flight for an A321. The route is scheduled at over 9 hours long and covers 3,749 nautical miles direct, but is mostly overland.
In addition to Primera Air, Norwegian Air International plans to supplement its current transatlantic service with the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with the A321LR in 2019. The A321LR will allow Norwegian to serve more inland destinations in both North America and Europe. With its order of 30 of the aircraft, Norwegian is breaking with its historical all-Boeing model in favor of the fuel-efficient, long-range A321LR.
Last year, Airbus announced that Canadian airline Air Transat will be the first North American operator of the aircraft. The Canadian low-cost airline has not yet announced, however, the routes for the aircraft, or whether it will follow its competitors Air Canada and WestJet in flying transatlantic routes with single-aisle aircraft. Currently, Air Canada and WestJet plan to use their Boeing 737 MAX to serve popular European cities from Canada.
The A321LR comes along Airbus’ recent upgrades to its fleet types, including the roll-out of the Airbus A320neo and A321neo, as well as the development of the Airbus A330neo and A380plus. These updates aim to increase fuel efficiency and lower operating costs. Currently, Airbus has received 1,900 orders for the aircraft among 50 customers, enabling it to capture 80 percent of the market share for this type of aircraft.
Upon successful type certification tests for both the American FAA and European EASA, Airbus says the aircraft will be entered into service in Q4 2018.
UPDATE 2/1: Primera Air announced on Thursday that it will be dropping its Birmingham-Boston route due to low demand. The airline has replaced the dropped route with a new route between London Stansted Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. The new route will be the airline’s only service from Washington-Dulles.