Business

Long haul flights on a one-aisle plane? Airbus thinks you’re up for it

240-seat A321LR takes to the skies with 7,400km range

By Simon Sharwood

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Airbus has flown a new version of its A320 jetliner that it hopes will take the twin-engine workhorse onto long-haul routes.

The plane-maker already makes the A321, a stretch version of the A320 capable of seating over 200 passengers. Airlines like the A321’s combination of capacity, economy and commonality with other members of the A320 range. But the A321’s range is just short of comfortable Atlantic crossings, so it’s not an option for such routes.

Enter the new A321LR, which thanks to new engines and other enhancements has range of 7,400km – enough to connect Paris and New York. Thanks to prevailing winds, the Paris to New York flight can touch nine hours, so has mostly been left to twin-aisle planes that offer passengers more comfortable surrounds.

Airbus clearly thinks there’s a niche to be filled by a single-aisle plane that has the range for the trip, plus the seating capacity to make it worth using an expensive landing slot at a big airport.

The plane flew for the first time last week and is scheduled to enter service later this year. Airbus doesn’t break out sub-models in its list of orders, but would almost certainly not have made the plane without waiting customers.

An obvious customer is budget airlines eyeing off long-haul routes, a trick already accomplished by Norwegian Airlines with a a long-range 737 Max hopping from Europe to North America.

Whether lots of passengers are willing to endure eight or nine hours in a single-aisle plane is another matter: your correspondent did a five-hour hop in a budget carrier’s A321 last year and it was a nasty flight with little leg-room and long loo queues. Airbus thinks it can improve that experience with new cabin layout and door options for the A321LR.

If airlines ignore those niceties, the A321LR will seat 240 passengers, about the same as smaller models of the A330 and 787. And it will do so at a substantially lower price. And with airlines seldom more than a couple of bad quarters away from trouble, the A321LR's such budget options will doubtless appeal. ®

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