Last week, Air Lease Corporation announced the placement of five Airbus A321XLRs with the Latin American giant LATAM Airlines Group. The Santiago de Chile-based company would receive these narrowbody jetliners between 2025 and 2026 and become the third operator in the region of the model, following the steps of local competitors JetSMART (14 on order) and Sky Airline (ten on order).
A great decision
In the last few years, the A321neo and A321XLR programs have become the workhorses for Airbus’ A321family segment. The XLR represents a golden opportunity for airlines to enter the medium-long market with a narrowbody next-gen aircraft, and LATAM has taken notice of this. The airline told Air Insight that the XLR will be an excellent alternative for its long-haul flights, complementing its network of international destinations. Nonetheless, it is too soon for the airline to announce routes, added a company spokesperson, so we can only theorize. Lets!
The Airbus A321XLR is set to become a trendsetter. The aircraft falls right in a sweet spot beating the maximum reach of other narrowbodies (like the Boeing 757, with its range of 3,900 nautical miles, or the A321LR, with 3,995 nautical miles) while keeping a typical two-class capacity of 180-200 passengers. Moreover, the A321XLR is expected to be far more efficient in terms of fuel burn.
These factors could help airlines to overcome one of the long-standing paradigms of the traditional long-haul market. There are certain routes that, so far, can only be operated with widebody aircraft but require a significant number of passengers to reach break even. The A321XLR could end this, optimizing the capacity. That’s why Chile’s three main airlines have all signed up for to add future XLRs to their fleets.
Santiago de Chile is a city located so far in the South it has been historically challenging to reach. Flights from the United States can only be done with widebody jetliners. Currently, there are only five direct routes between the US and Chile. These are operated by American Airlines, Delta, LATAM, and United Airlines, with their long-haul fleets. The route Miami-Santiago has the largest number of operations, with 19 flights per week, followed by JFK-Santiago. While the latter remains far beyond the reach of the XLR, the Santiago-Miami segment is perfectly reachable with the future plane developed by Airbus. Moreover, JetSMART has already stated it will operate this non-stop route once it receives the XLR in 2024 (hopefully).
So, what about LATAM?
A few months ago, ALG wrote seven opportunities that airlines see in the XLR and the access it will give them to medium-long haul flights instead of widebody options. These opportunities are 1. Point-to-point in medium-long haul routes; 2. Profitable seasonality; 3. Fleet management; 4. Emissions reduction; 5. New opportunity for LCCs to enter the medium-long haul routes; 6. Fewer risks associated with network development and route-testing; 7. Lower ticket fares.
By taking these points into consideration (I recommend you to look at ALG’s analysis; it is a great one), we believe LATAM Airlines will use the XLR fleet with three main ideas in mind:
- Open new routes between Chile and the United States. We believe Houston or Dallas could be potential destinations (Atlanta, perhaps, although Delta already operates the segment).
- Take some of the routes currently operated by LATAM’s Boeing 767 fleet. The airline is already turning some of the aging 767s into freighters fueling its cargo business.
- Finally, LATAM could also employ the XLR on specific routes operated with the 787 Dreamliner from Santiago de Chile. Some of the destinations we believe could see the XLR are Bogota, Cancún, Lima, Mexico City, and Punta Cana.
Daniel Martínez Garbuno is a Mexican journalist. He has specialized in the air industry working mainly for A21, a Mexican media outlet focused entirely on the aviation world. He has also published on other sites like Simple Flying, Roads & Kingdoms, Proceso, El Economista, Buzos de la Noticia, Contenido, and Notimex.