Last week WOWair flew their new A321neo from Reykjavik to Los Angeles. This was the first A321neo delivered to a European customer. As you can see from the map, this was an amazing flight for a single aisle aircraft in commercial service. The “Great Circle Distance” was 4,314 miles with a flight time of 8h 40min. It’s hard to imagine that long a flight on a single aisle.
But consider there are 214 seats on the WOW aircraft. It is an LCC after all. The flight certainly stretched the aircraft’s legs. WOW has been using A330-200s serving California. To see their longest California flight using the A321neo is eye-opening and a message to the competition. Bear in mind that on WOW’s A321neo seat pitch is as low as 29 inches. It must have been a grueling flight for passengers seated in the highest section.
We use this WOW example of what to expect next. The A321LR now starts a nearly 100-hour flight test program, including transatlantic missions, for EASA and FAA Type Certification in 2Q18. Entry into service is targeted for 4Q18. The A321LR has an even longer range than the A321neo. In the hands of an airline that wants to push boundaries, the A321LR can be expected to be highly disruptive.
Boeing has made a very good argument of how the 787 has developed new routes and markets. Randy Tinseth noted “The Dreamliner is opening up new routes all over the world. Just a few short months ago, 75 new nonstop routes had been opened with the 787. Today, that total has jumped to more than 100 routes that have been announced or are already in operation.”
If the 787 proved that “hub-busting” is a thing, then we might expect the same from the A321LR. Airlines might not often need all that range, but when you have it, it can be useful to develop a new market. The 787 enables ElAl to serve San Franciso and United to fly from Houston to Sydney. Becuase the 787 is relatively small, airlines do not have to sell as many seats as they would, for example, deploying a 777.
That same argument holds for the A321LR. With just over 200 seats to sell, and an airline can look across the Atlantic from Europe and identify any number of secondary cities where they can pick a new market. We have already seen Norwegian do this with the MAX8. Primera has the same goals. Both are A321LR customers and LCCs.
Network carriers must be watching this activity with some consternation. The only way to beat this activity is to deploy the same tool or its equivalent. Except the A321LR really doesn’t have a direct competitor since the 757 era is largely over. Which must please Airbus no end.