Airbus Wants to Soup Up Its Long-Range A321 to Beat Boeing

Jun 18, 2018

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In the rivalry between Airbus and Boeing, the competition for the most efficient 200 to 270-seat passenger aircraft is just heating up.

Industry experts predict that specific sector of the airplane manufacturing market to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the next two decades. So the two biggest aircraft builders are looking for any edge they can find. For Airbus, that means potentially adding further range capability to its already long-legged A321LR or “Long Range.”

The plans for the new version of the single-aisle jet, dubbed the A321XLR, show the aircraft would be able to carry additional fuel, which would reportedly be able to expand the A321LR’s maximum range of 4,600 miles.The A321LR aircraft, which will enter service this year, has already broken a distance record for single-aisle jets with a 5,500-mile flight from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean to Toulouse, albeit without passengers. A person with inside knowledge of the plane’s development told Reuters that the new extra-long-range version would not add extra seats or focus on improving aerodynamics. The A321 currently sits a maximum of 220 passengers.

Airbus’ tinkering with the endurance and fuel efficiency of its A321 comes as Boeing prepares to launch its mid-market jet, which may be called the 797 but so far is known mostly as MOM or “middle of market”, which is likely to be specially shaped for more efficient flying. The 220-270-seat plane will probably feature the double aisle of a wide-body aircraft, but with the cargo space of a single-aisle jet.

The competition for the top spot among mid-market, long-range jets is shaping up to be a high-stakes game of chicken. Some experts say that Airbus has tried to reduce risk by ending two other A320neo long-range studies (code named the A320neoplus, and the A320neo-plus-plus) that would have included elongating the fuselage, increasing fuel capacity and adding carbon fiber wings.

Meanwhile, Boeing also seems to be taking its time deciding whether to launch its aircraft, telling Reuters it is doing its “due diligence” and not dragging its feet.

The aircraft, which is expected to launch in two fuselage sizes, will be “a little bigger than an A321 but goes a lot further” and “about the size of the A330 but has a lot better efficiency,” Boeing Senior Vice President Ihssane Mounir told Reuters. The Airbus A330 typically seats around 250 people. The main difference between the A321LR and the future Boeing MOM is that the latter would be a twin-aisle design. There is no timeline from Boeing on when the plane might launch.

Featured image by PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images.

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