Airbus has commenced functional and reliability testing of its A321XLR, a passenger plane expected to open up new routes by allowing the aviation workhorse that is the A320 family to easily handle transatlantic trips and journeys of ten hours or more.
The XLR in A321XLR stands for “extra long range” – a moniker earned by the plane’s ability to fly 4,700 nautical miles (8,700km or 5400 miles). That range puts long flights – like London to Los Angeles, Sydney to Tokyo, or New York to Rio De Janeiro – within reach of a single-aisle plane.
Scarcity of landing slots at big airports means few international airlines will use the 200-seater for those routes, because larger planes offer greater profit potential.
The A321XLR is instead designed to let carriers fly “long, thin” routes – long journeys that don’t have huge passenger demand. It’s currently hard to fly such routes profitably. Airbus hopes the A321XLR interests airlines that want to explore such flights, safe in the knowledge that it’s just an A320 variant that can be pressed into service on other routes by existing crews trained on less long-legged versions of the type.
Airbus explained that the functional and reliability testing program’s main aim 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 around 15 sectors that Airbus reckons are “typical of what airlines might fly when the aircraft enters service” as they mix up different climatic conditions, flight durations, and airport turnaround times. Some of the test flights will see the demo plane fly from Airbus HQ in Toulouse, France, to near the NorthPole and back to Toulouse. Others will stay within Europe. Another test flight will cross the Atlantic, touch down at what Airbus has described as “a US gateway airport,” and then fly home.
Airbus pilots and engineers will be aboard the flight, as will 30 staff who volunteer as passengers.
Those volunteers get to experience the full commercial cabin interior being used in the test plane, and therefore endure long-ish haul flight in a 3-3 economy class configuration.
Widebody jets currently used on flights of the length the A321XLR will conduct boast two aisles, and therefore offer a little space in which to stand and stretch. Airbus’s new model will be rather less roomy, leaving airlines to decide if they want to cram passengers in or choose cabin layouts that offer more comfort.
Those decisions are probably being made now: Airbus has orders for over 400 A321XLRs, and the craft is expected to enter service in 2024. The plane maker delivered over 500 of the A320 family last year, so once the A321XLR is certified there’s every chance they’ll quickly start to appear in airline fleets. ®