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A321NEO LR: the plane that changes everything

The long-haul model from Airbus, which has just become available for commercial service, is set to shake up the transatlantic flight market.

If you regularly fly with easyJet, then you’ve definitely flown on an Airbus A321. The single- aisle aircraft has, until now, been reserved for short-haul flights, such as Geneva-Barcelona or Zurich-London. But that was then. The latest version of this aeroplane, the A321neo LR (long range), with its more efficient engines, can cover 7,400 km – a distance that was once only possible for much larger two-aisle planes. This latest model is capable of flights such as Zurich-New York, Lisbon-Recife, Dubai-Beijing, Kuala Lumpur-Tokyo and Singapore-Sydney. This is revolutionary. “The A321neo LR will be a game-changer for the long-haul market because it will open up new routes,” predicts Xavier Tytelman, an aeronautics expert for CGI Business Consulting. “This will lead to a complete reorganisation of the skies.”

The enormous quantity of fuel needed for long-distance flights meant that it was necessary – until now – to fly large aircraft that could hold 300 to 400 passengers. To make flying these huge planes profitable, airlines had no choice but to have them take off from hubs – giant airports in big cities that could draw enough passengers. As a result, the air network started looking like a spider’s web: single -aisle planes went from regional airports to gigantic hubs, where passengers could disembark to board long-distance flights. It’s a system that the A321neo LR, which has between 200 and 240 seats depending on the cabin configuration, is promising to shake up. “This aeroplane will allow local airports to offer long-haul destinations that wouldn’t be profitable commercially with large aircraft,” explains Jean-Baptiste Nau, an aeronautics expert for consulting firm Wavestone. “Everyone knows about the Paris-New York route, but next we’ll have Toulouse-New York.”



Jean-Baptiste Nau, expert for consulting firm Wavestone


These point-to-point flights are the preserve of low-cost airlines, which believe the A321neo LR will be the tool that allows them to break into the long-haul market. Essentially, rather than compete with traditional giants for big routes like London- New York, they could open new routes such as Boston-Bristol. That’s what Norwegian, the biggest low-cost long-haul airline in Europe, is trying to do. It ordered thirty A321neo LRs in 2016 to open routes between Bordeaux and the United States. Israeli lowcost airline Arkia, which received the first A321neo LR model in November 2018, is starting routes from Israel to Europe and Asia.

The threat is real enough that Air France even mentions it as part of its strategic direction: “Due to the growth of single-aisle long-haul aeroplanes [...],” wrote the French airline, “we must seriously study this new form of competition in order to best address it.” Boeing is also expected to make moves. For now, the US aircraft manufacturer doesn’t have a plane that can compete with the A321neo LR. Its B737 Max 8 – one of which was owned by airline Lion Air crashed in late October – holds fewer passengers than the Airbus model and has a smaller range. Norwegian uses it on shorter transatlantic flights, particularly between Dublin and Newburgh in New York State.



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