The first A321LR (D-AVZO) taking off from Paris-Le Bourget Airport on its first Transatlantic Crossing to New York City. Image courtesy of Airbus.
In recent years, the transition from large, multi-engine jets toward smaller, more efficient aircraft for long and medium range flights has become apparent. Gone are the days of flying across the Pacific Ocean on a fuel-guzzling Boeing 747. Instead, technological advancements have allowed the much smaller Boeing 777, 787, and Airbus A350 to replace the 747 on these routes, allowing airline to offer higher frequency and fill up more seats on each flight. The same trend has occurred for transatlantic flights. The 737, originally conceived as a regional jet in the late 1960s, is now capable of connecting U.S. East Coast cities with Western Europe, and has thus replaced many larger aircraft previously operating these routes. The same goes for Airbus' highly successful A320 family; in fact, an Airbus A321neo (a regular non-LR variant) even flew nonstop from Iceland to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Traditionally, airlines such as Continental/United have operated Boeing 757s out of East Coast cities to European destinations that did not have as large of a demand as other routes. These long-range, single-aisle aircraft opened up the so-called "long and thin" routes that would be uneconomical to operate otherwise, and has thus been a huge boon for U.S. carriers. Unfortunately, production of the Boeing 757 ceased in 2004.
As a member of Airbus' bestselling A320 family of aircraft, the Airbus A321LR is based on the A321neo, but features up to three extra fuel tanks in order to boost the range to 7,400 kilometers, slightly more than a 757-200. Both the A321neo and A321LR have become extremely popular aircraft, with 1,720 orders for both types to date. The Airbus A321LR alone has around 100 orders, mostly for airlines seeking to operate in transatlantic markets with lower than typical demand.
On February 13, 2017, an Airbus A321LR, with the German registration D-AVZO, successfully completed the first transatlantic crossing of such an aircraft, making the hop from Le Bourget Airfield in Paris to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in 8 hours and 44 minutes. This historical first flight marks the beginning of a new generation of "middle-of-market" flights, allowing airlines to move to a "point-to-point" model from a "hub-and-spoke" business model. The A321LR comes with the latest fuel economy technology from Airbus, such as highly efficient CFM-LEAP-1A engines or Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM engines. Furthermore, customers can expect to find Airbus' new standard cabin interior, larger overhead storage bins, as well as "the latest in-flight entertainment technology." Airbus expects the A321LR to be a one-to-one replacement for many aging 757 aircraft, which will probably be retired in the coming years.
With the first flight of the A321LR, Airbus is seeking to capture most of the "middle-of-market" segment previously dominated by the Boeing 757. Boeing has long since offered the 737 MAX 9 and MAX 10 as replacements for such aircraft, but due to design limitations, these offer much less payload and performance, and thus cannot be considered true "middle-of-market" aircraft. Boeing is rumored to be working on a so-called "797" that would seat between 220 and 270 passengers, and would offer between 4,800 and 5,200 nautical miles of range. However, this aircraft will likely not enter the market until the middle of the next decade.
Congratulations to Airbus on the first successful transatlantic flight of the A321LR!