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Airbus will add an ultra-long range A321XLR to its best-selling family of single-aisle jets, allowing airlines to open new routes and sharpen competition on existing popular routes such as London-New York.
Long rumoured and recently hinted at by Airbus executives, the A321XLR was formally launched at the start of this week's Paris Air Show and take wing in 2023.
JetBlue may be among the first airlines to fly the long-legged A321XLR, which would complement its trans-Atlantic A321LR services due to launch in 2021.
This continent-striding version of the A320neo family will carry around 200 passengers in a two-class configuration and could shake up and reshape trans-Atlantic travel.
Better NY-London business class fares
Challenger airlines such as JetBlue will drive prices lower, especially in premium business class cabins, while the A321XLR's extended range – pegged at 'up to 4,700nmi' or 8,700km – will also add further-field destinations such as New York to continental Europe.
“London is the biggest opportunity because it has the highest fares, but there would be other opportunities if we had an airplane that had more range," JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes told media earlier this month, citing Brussels and Amsterdam as examples. "The XLR gives us more range."
Another card in the A321XLR's hand: it could open up non-stop flights to and even between smaller cities which couldn't justify larger twin-aisle jets such as the Airbus A330 or Boeing 787 series, and which would otherwise require a stopover.
Airbus says the A321XLR will also "open new world-wide routes such as India to Europe or China to Australia", while other suggested routes include Sydney to Tokyo, London to Miami and New York to Rome.
These direct 'thin' routes would prove a value time- and hassle-saver for business traveller, although passenger comfort will come to the fore: most Australians have spent 90 minutes flying in the single-aisle Boeing 737 between Sydney and Melbourne or Sydney and Brisbane, but typical A321XLR routes could span eight to nine hours.
Airbus will fit the A321XLR with the same Airspace cabin as the twin-aisle A330neo and A350 jets – a package combining a quieter cabin, LED lighting and larger overhead storage bins.
However, the cabin of an A320-series jet is typically pressurised to the equivalent of 7,000-8,000 feet above sea level, compared to an equivalent 6,000 feet for modern jets such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787.
That lower effective cabin altitude minimises flight fatigue and plays a part in reducing the impact of jetlag.