Can the A321neoLR truly replace the 757-200??


The Boeing 757-200 is not the only narrow-body aircraft crossing the Atlantic Ocean today in commercial service, but it is darn close. Just a handful of other flights make the trip while scores of 752s ply the skies over the ocean. It is a mainstay for smaller airlines and smaller markets. And the planes are getting a bit old. Not that they’re ready to be retired just yet, of course, but options to replace the 752s for intercontinental service have been essentially nil. Until now. According to Leeham News Airbus is launching the “A321neoLR” (not the real name, but it is the best we’ve got right now) and expects to have the type in service in early 2019. And the specs suggest that it just might be what some airlines have been looking for.

The Airbus A321neoLR will offer increased range and higher gross weight, mostly as a result of extra fuel tanks added to the frame. The airframer expects that the new aircraft will shave approximately 25% off the operating costs versus the 752s while carrying 164 passengers in a two-cabin configuration; United Airlines currently has 169 seats on its international-configuration 752s while Delta has 171 and American Airlines has 176. So, comparable seating and significant savings on operating costs both are good news. But the A321neoLR configuration will not be an option to retrofit into regular A321neo orders. So, will any of the 729 pending orders shift to the new design? Here’s the list of firm orders for the type, excluding lessors and unnamed customers:

Current firm orders for the A321neo. Could any convert to the A321neoLR??
Current firm orders for the A321neo. Could any convert to the A321neoLR??

Of these customers only American Airlines is a major 752 operator. And the carrier does run a number of 752 flights across the Atlantic and between North and South America. For many of these routes the extra range provided by the A321neoLR could make a difference in replacing the 752s.

Extended range of the A321neoLR from ORD

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Extended range of the A321neoLR from MIA

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These maps reflect estimated differences in range and optimal winds, two things which are completely uncertain at this time. Still, it seems that there are a few opportunities, particularly out of JFK and ORD, where American could use the extra range to good effect. There might even be a destination or two out of Miami which becomes available with the expanded range; perhaps something like Montevideo is suddenly a viable option.

Lion Air is another big customer of the A321neo but looking at a similar map it does not appear that converting to the A321neoLR would do the carrier much good.

Extended range of the A321neoLR from CGK
Extended range of the A321neoLR from Jakarta, Indonesia

Ditto for Turkish Airlines, where there simply are not many major destinations in the increased range window.

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For JetBlue the map looks rather similar to the AA options out of MIA (FLL is just up the road) and JFK. The main difference is that JetBlue doesn’t currently have a type capable of these longer flights. And while there have been many discussions about the carrier possibly getting larger aircraft in order to cross oceans this would be a rather different option. Spirit Airlines is in a similar position with its FLL hub, though it is unlikely that the carrier would choose the less densely filled 164 seat option versus adding more passengers. That might knock the range back down a bit, though it seems like Rio should still be possible from South Florida with the LR model.

For Philippine Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines the added range doesn’t appear to add much to the route map. Maybe HNL-ORD would become viable, though that’s a market with a decent bit of competition.

For Qatar Airways there’s a chance that  some of the smaller West Africa destinations might become attractive with the LR option. Plus, the carrier does have something of a reputation for buying one of everything when it comes to aircraft types.

Extended range of the A321neoLR from Doha
Extended range of the A321neoLR from Doha

Then there are the other major 752 operators, namely United Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Neither has ordered the A321neo at all and it is not clear that the A321neoLR is really the 752 replacement plane they are looking for. At the same time, however, Boeing hasn’t put much on the table to help meet this need either. Maybe this move by Airbus – a product with the range and a reasonably EIS delivery timeline – is enough to either make some orders happen or get Boeing to blink and announce something similar. A 737MAX-LR option just might make things happen, but adding the extra fuel tanks to give it the range might take away from other performance factors which make the MAX attractive.

No matter what, having a new type to talk about is always fun for speculation and imagination.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

9 Comments

  1. i don’t think it will happen, bu a worthy mention would be Easy jet crossing the pond. They operate mastly A320’s and that might appeal to them more as well. Some serious competition for the ULCC’s coming to the US soon! I can feel it!

    1. EasyJet is in the same ballpark as Spirit IMO, Andrew. They could try but they’d need a lot more seats on board to fit their market. And it is not clear what range penalty (if any) that would bring about. But, yes, I could see an LCC try to go TATL from EU/UK to the WAS/NYC/BOS corridor with something like this. Even without the LR that might work as the OpEx comes down enough.

  2. Some of these 757 to A321 comparisons seem to be a little faulty in that they are not comparing apple to apple services. These older 757s are often configured with greater pitch than the A321. (presumably the NEO will have a similar layout to the original A321). For example, versus the standard A321, American’s domestic 752 have 2 more inches of pitch in first class and 1-3 more inches of pitch in MCE. These numbers are significant since American has 24 First class seats and 52 MCE seats on the 757. So the A321Neo is getting close to the 757 Pax numbers but is partially doing it by getting in an extra row of seats via reduced pitch in first and MCE.

    1. We’ll have to see what the total seat layout is, dan, but the initial reports are trying to get as close to like-for-like as they can in the analysis. We are not comparing a domestic config against an international one. The international 752s are 16/52/108 on AA and 16/45/108 on UA. The reports suggest that the A321neoLR will be potentially 20 up front and then 140-150ish in the back, but no details on how dense the seating would be to make that work.

  3. @Andrew, from a European perspective, Easy Jet does seem like an option. From an American perspective, if this were going to happen B6 seems like a good candidate. They already fly Airbus products and they have a large operation in Boston. Since even the NeoLR could still have some range limits in with strong winds, Boston is appealing since it is so far Northeast and is not slot controlled like B6’s JFK hub. They could operate flights to smaller/cheaper European airports and then feed those people into their onward traffic from Boston. B6 could potentially do this from JFK instead although the economics there seem somewhat harder since many more destinations already have non-stop service from JFK/EWR and expansion opportunities at JFK are more limited due to space constraints.

  4. Why did Boeing discontinue the 757? It’s weird watching jetBlue and American order A321s because Boeing essentially gave up the market — any reason they did so? The 739 is obviously not the same. So why give up something they had a competitive advantage in?

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