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