Lessor Air Lease Corporation (ALC) has submitted suggestions to Airbus on how to overcome safety concerns of the Rear Center Tank (RCT) on the A321XLR, chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy told AirInsight on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Doha this week. ALC suggests A321XLR Rear Center Tank changes to Airbus.

“We have made some suggestions to them on how to make the tank safer”, Udvar-Hazy said. He didn’t specify the design changes, but they are likely to include the fitting of Kevlar reinforced structures around the aluminum tank that sits just behind the main landing gear.

The design of the integrated tank with a capacity of 19.200 liters has been the focus of attention since Boeing voiced concerns to regulators. The close proximity to the landing gear could pose a hazard during a hard landing if the tank was pierced by some part. Also, with passengers sitting right on top of the tank, cabin comfort could be affected by the cold fuel.  

Regulators in Europe (EASA) and the US (FAA) have taken a careful look at the tank design but what is required isn’t clear. On the occasion of the first flight of the A321XLR on June 15, Head of Program Gary O’Donnell was unwilling to go into details either: “Basically, we have been in discussions with EASA for three years, as we do with every project, so this is nothing special. And we will continue to work with them until the day we get the type certificate. Each of the features that make the XLR different from the other models as the RCT, cabin systems, the landing gear, and also the fire suppression of the tank, needs to be reviewed. That is something that EASA asks us to do.” O’Donnell said that this is a “normal development process. We are sixty percent through the process, forty percent still needs to be done.”

ALC is an influential customer of Airbus and a prominent buyer of the A321XLR. It was the launch customer of the type at the 2019 Paris Airshow with an order for 27, which was updated with a follow-on order for twenty at the 2021 Dubai Airshow. Air Lease has been the launch customer for many more aircraft, including the A330neo, a higher-weight version of the A321neo, and the A350F. Together with selected airlines, ALC has also been closely involved in the design specifications of Boeing’s yet-to-be-launched new mid-market aircraft.

Udvar-Hazy has said on numerous occasions that Boeing needs to launch a new aircraft soon, like in March: “There is a big gap between the 737 and the 787 size-wise. The A321neo, A321LR, and A321XLR have beaten Boeing by six to one. Boeing needs to address that, they need to dust off the 797 plans and refocus their efforts on developing a new aircraft in the 200-seat, plus or minus, category.”

Asked in Doha if he was concerned about further delays of the A321XLR beyond the current slip of certification to early 2024, Udvar-Hazy said he wasn’t. He thinks there will be time to get modifications done if they are needed. And he added: “Delays are nothing new, we are having them all the time.”

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Richard Schuurman
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Active as journalist since 1987, starting with regional newspaper Zwolse Courant. Grand Prix reporter in 1997 at Dutch monthly Formule 1, general reporter Lelystad/Flevoland at De Stentor/Dagblad Flevoland, from 2002 until June 2021 radio/tv reporter/presentor with Omroep Flevoland.
Since mid-2016 freelance aviation journalist, since June 2021 fully dedicated to aviation. Reporter/editor AirInsight since December 2018. Contributor to Airliner World, Piloot & Vliegtuig. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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