SAS assessing potential of A321LR

Scandinavian Airlines’ (SAS) CEO Rickard Gustafon has confirmed the airline are assessing the viability of ordering the Airbus A321LR — the long range variant of the A321neo. Gustafon said the carrier (already a large Airbus customer) was “running the numbers” for a conversion from A320neo’s on an existing order, to the A321LR.

Gustafon said “I believe the A321LR could be an attractive aircraft that can unlock new markets in the long-haul space, and that’s something we’re looking into.”

SAS and A320neo

SAS is an A320neo operator,  having taken delivery of 19 A320neos from a previous order for 30 aircraft. Back in April, the airline then placed another order for 35 more aircraft — thus giving the execs the opportunity to converting some into A321LR orders.

The airline became the first airline in Scandinavia to introduce the NEO’s, and back when I joined Airbus and SAS for the delivery of its first A320neo in May 2017, the airline execs were hinting of future orders, given the ‘exciting economic potential’ of the efficient  re-engined jets.

Screen Shot 2018-09-06 at 10.21.30
On delivery of SAS first A320neo — Copyright Alex Macheras

When the A320neo’s were first added to SAS’ fleet, the airline took the opportunity to update the cabin interior, including the addition of an illuminated USB port at each seat, and high-speed ViaSat Wi-Fi (which was added at a later date).

The A321LR (long range)

The A321LR is the Airbus aircraft working to secure position as the ‘MoM’ – the ‘middle of the market’ jet, an aircraft that can operate long haul routes, but doesn’t require the heavy passenger demand in order to make it a profitable flight.

It’s the largest and heaviest member of the A320 family, and can seat up to 240 people, while having the ability to fly more than 4,000 nautical miles nonstop. It means this single-aisle aircraft easily capable of flying a route such as Paris (CDG) to New York (JFK).

I’ve highlighted more than as it’s becoming quiet clear that the A321LR can fly further than 4,000…much further in fact.

We know the A321LR can fly further than it ‘says on the tin,’ because of Icelandic carrier, WOW Air.

WOW Air have already operated A321neo (the smaller range version of A321LR) flights between Reykjavik (KEF) and Los Angeles (LAX) — a route well in excess of the expected range of a normal A321neo.

While it’s not known how many seats WOW Air blocked in order to fly such a journey, it’s already demonstrated the long-range capabilities of the A321neo family, which leaves exciting prospects for a long range A321neo aircraft, the A321LR.

When I sat down with members of the A321LR program in Toulouse recently, they told me “airlines are exploring different seating configurations with us, that will enable them to fly much further (in terms of range) than we already guarantee.”

A321LR — Copyright Alex Macheras

In terms of differences to a regular A321, there are some fuselage modifications allowing for more space for seats inside the cabin. Furthermore, there’s a reinforced landing gear (to support the heavier weight of the jet), and a new rear section — with a ‘Airbus Cabin Flex’ exit-door configuration, to maximise cabin space.

Final Thought

I believe we’ll see SAS convert part of their existing A320neo order to A321LR, given the ‘safe economics’ for airlines when it comes to this single-aisle jet. The aircraft is preparing to enter commercial service, and flight test engineers tell me it’s been ‘one of the easiest aircraft to work on’ given its commonality with the A320 family, the world’s best selling short haul aircraft.

The Star Alliance carrier will be able to use the A321LR on long, thin routes — and given that SAS are a loyal Airbus customer, it’s likely they’ll be able to negotiate a good conversion deal.

What are your thoughts on the A321LR?

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