Final assembly of the first A321neo ACF, which stands for Airbus Cabin Flex, is underway in Hamburg. This new model has a 97 metric tonne MTOW and has provision for an optional fuel tank underfloor that can add an additional 400 nautical miles of range, the A321LR model when so equipped.
The ACF introduces fuselage and door modifications to increase the maximum capacity of the aircraft to 240 for high-density routes. The cabin can accommodate 206 passengers in the LR version that includes an additional center tank and extends the range to 4,000 nm.
Several changes are quite visible. First, the door just ahead of the wing on the standard A321 is removed, with double swing-up emergency exit doors installed over the wing. Door 3 is relocated aft of the wing and can be optionally de-activated, depending on the seating configuration.
The LR designation includes the optional third auxiliary center tank (ACT) installed under the floor. The A321LR has the longest range of any single-aisle plane currently in production.
The first ACF delivery should occur in Q2 of 2018, with the first A321LR in Q4 2018. The ACF, an option today, will become the standard build for the A321 from 2020 onwards, as demand continues to grow for this popular model.
We expect ULCCs to embrace the high-density interior, and LCCs to utilize the A321LR and its range to introduce additional transatlantic services in the near future. With a flexible cabin, the A321LR would be an ideal vehicle for a carrier like JetBlue, with its innovative Mint service, to inaugurate transatlantic service.
The Bottom Line
The A321neo ACF has both a capacity and range advantage over the competing Boeing 737 MAX10 and should maintain or expand its market share advantage at the top end of the narrow-body market. It appears that the A321LR is becoming the de-facto replacement for the Boeing 757 at most carriers as the most capable narrow-body in terms of capacity and range.