Qantas has joined the roster of airlines signing up as launch customers for the extended-range Airbus A321XLR.
The airline has inked a deal for up to 36 of the A321XLR jets, due for delivery from mid-2024, by trading up from 26 of its previous orders for the less long-legged A321neo and adding ten more aircaft to the shopping list.
Although the order was placed by the Qantas Group, which encompasses current A321 stalwart Jetstar, group CEO Alan Joyce has left the door open to the A321XLRs joining the red-tailed Airbus A330 fleet for flights into Asia.
"It can fly routes like Cairns-Tokyo or Melbourne-Singapore, which existing narrow-bodies can’t, and that changes the economics of lots of potential routes into Asia to make them not just physically possible but financially attractive," Joyce remarked.
“We’ll take a decision closer to the time about which parts of the Group will use these aircraft, but there is plenty of potential across Qantas and Jetstar."
"We’ll also take a view on whether they are used to replace older aircraft or whether they are used for growth, which will depend on what’s happening in the market."
This continent-striding version of the single-aisle A320neo family will carry around 200 passengers in a two-class configuration and is expected to shake up and reshape trans-Atlantic travel, although the same impacts could extend to the Asia-Pacific region.
Some challenger airlines will use the A321XLR to drive prices lower, especially in premium business class cabins.
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.
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.