The A321XLR, a passenger aircraft from Airbus that would enable the A320 family, the industry workhorse, to easily handle transatlantic flights and travels of 10 hours or more, has begun functional and reliability testing.…
The “extra long range” (XLR) portion of the A321XLR’s name refers to the aircraft’s capacity to travel 4,700 nautical miles, or 8,700 kilometers, or 5400 miles. With that range, a single-aisle aircraft can travel on lengthy routes like London to Los Angeles, Sydney to Tokyo, or New York to Rio de Janeiro.
Few international carriers would use the 200-seater for those routes due to a lack of landing slots at major airports because larger aircraft have a higher likelihood of making a profit.
Instead, the A321XLR is meant to enable airlines to fly “long, thin” routes—lengthy flights with low passenger demand. These routes are now difficult to operate financially. Airbus expects that the A321XLR will pique the interest of airlines looking to test out such flights, secure in the knowledge that it is simply an A320 variant that can be used on other routes by crews already experienced with shorter-leg versions of the type.
According to Airbus, the primary objective of the functional and reliability testing program is “to demonstrate the A321XLR’s systems maturity well before entry into service, with a target of approximately 100 hours flying time over ten days with no systems power-down.”
The testing will involve flying 15 sectors that, according to Airbus, are “typical of what airlines might fly when the aircraft enters service” because they vary in terms of weather, flight times, and turnaround times at airports. The demo aircraft will make some test flights from the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, to a location near the North Pole and returning to Toulouse. Some people will remain in Europe. A second test flight will fly across the Atlantic, land at “a US gateway airport,” and then take off again for home.
Along with 30 employees who volunteered to travel as passengers, the flight will include Airbus pilots and engineers.
These volunteers suffer a long-ish length flight in a 3-3 economy class layout and get to experience the entire commercial cabin interior that is being used in the test aircraft.
There isn’t much room to stand or stretch in the widebody jets now utilized on flights of the length the A321XLR will operate, which have two aisles. The next Airbus model will be somewhat smaller, leaving airlines to pick whether they want to squeeze passengers in or opt for cabin designs that provide greater comfort.
The A321XLR is scheduled to enter service in 2024, and Airbus has received orders for nearly 400 of the aircraft, so those decisions are likely being made right now. Last year, the manufacturer delivered almost 500 members of the A320 family, so if the A321XLR is certified, there’s a good chance they’ll start to show up in airline fleets right away.