Airbus has begun putting together the major component assemblies for its first of many Airbus A321XLR aircraft. This variant promises to be a game-changer.
The A320neo family has been a big deal for Airbus. Just like the MAX is for Boeing – with or without its dramatic odyssey. But in the grand scheme of things, both of these jets were a bit underwhelming. Both manufacturers made them at the request of the airlines. But ‘avgeeks’ would prefer something completely new. So, it’s more than a bit odd, that we’re all getting excited over the first Airbus A321XLR. And all because of a new fuel tank!
It’s a fairly important fuel tank, though. Airbus announced the cutting of the first metal for the A321XLR’s Rear Centre Tank (RCT), last July. Yes, aircraft makers aren’t kidding when they talk about long lead-time items. To be fair, this was the prototype. And it’s not just a different fuel tank, it is a different tank type.
Previously, the A321 range could have one or two Auxiliary Centre Tanks (ACTs). These are removable, and have a capacity of 3,121lt (824 US gal). The new tank in the A321XLR is a first, because it is a structural part of the aircraft. Simplistically put, it will be a bit like the ‘wet-wing’ tanks on any airliner. In these, the wing’s structure itself works as a fuel tank.
Build It And They Will Come..?
So the new RCT in the A321XLR is part of the Centre Wing Box (CWB), a first for Airbus. That it’s fixed may sound like a potential problem… but it’s not. The fuel tank is surprisingly compact. It has the capacity of four of the previous ACTs, but weighs the same as one of them, and takes the space in the hold of two!
Airbus began work assembling this first A321XLR centre wing box last November. This is not the only change in the XLR, of course. The aircraft also has stronger landing gear, an improved/simplified flap system, plus other less impressive tweaks and details. Actually, there is another, quite impressive detail about the plane: its order book.
When Airbus first announced it, the A321XLR seemed like a gimmick, to some. The A321LR already had a decent number of orders. Replacing older Boeing 757s was in the radar of the airlines; Airbus themselves happily pointed it out. Nonetheless, at its launch at the 2019 Paris Air Show, the XLR had 243 orders. Not bad for a supposedly ‘niche’ aircraft, on its first outing.
And orders kept coming. Less than a year later, Airbus put their number at “more than 450”. Then came the coronavirus, putting the brakes on more orders. But the industry is now taking the plane seriously. As the first long-haul, single-aisle jet since the Boeing 757, the Airbus A321XLR is creating a bit of a trend.
JetBlue Gives First Idea Of The Airbus A321XLR’s Potential?
Already with the A321LR, we saw how JetBlue is redefining what is possible, with its transatlantic plans. At the suggestion of flying long-haul in a single-aisle, many people’s first reaction is dismay. These planes aren’t comfortable for such long trips… well, it depends. JetBlue promises to put proper, long-haul seats, with appropriate pitch, even for coach. That should appease many. And after this first LR, the Airbus A321XLR opens more route possibilities.
Crucially, Boeing has no answer to this plane. Nor will they have one for the foreseeable future, as we saw. Boeing is hoping that demand for the plane will fizzle out. But even if it doesn’t, they simply have no funds to ‘chase’ it.
Demand for the plane initially gave Airbus pause for thought. They could stretch the A321 airframe, but that would require either a new wing, or new engines – or both. But there’s little point, not with Boeing unable to compete.
When the first Airbus A321XLR rolls out of the production line, it will sit in the market, on its own. Except for the widebodies, of course.