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The A321 family, and its latest version, the A321LR, are gaining orders and this has clearly become the replacement for the Boeing 757 in many markets.  With trans-Atlantic range, the A321LR has become an alternative for low cost carriers to offer service between the East Coast of the US and Europe.

JetBlue has become the latest to enter this market, converting 13 of its existing A321neo orders to the A321LR model.  The airline is planning to begin service to London in 2021, and will feature lie-flat business class seats utilizing their popular Mint product in an expanded configuration.

Analysis

The oligopoly of the three major alliances, Star, One world, and Sky Team, have resulted in trans-Atlantic fares rising substantially.  This provides an opportunity for LCCs to enter the market and undercut the existing players, especially for business class travel.  The Mint product at JetBlue offers full sleeper seating, and should be competitive with wide-bodies for the short flights between Boston and New York and London.

But Airbus isn’t finished with its innovation.  The company is currently discussing a new variant, the A321XLR with potential customers that could push range even further, making it a true replacement and enabling non-stop flights from central Europe to the US non-stop.

Boeing’s 797 design is a small wide-body, designed to replace the Boeing 767.  But their product offering provided no true replacement for the Boeing 757, its large narrow body.   The MAX9 and MAX10 have neither the runway performance or range to be competitive in this market, and their low sales volumes, now compounded by MAX8 crashes, and cannot fill this role.

As a result, Boeing has ceded the large narrow-body market to Airbus until Boeing can develop a replacement for the 757, which will likely occur when their future small is developed for introduction in 2030.

Airbus has an opportunity to capture the majority of the middle of the market segment with its A321LR and forthcoming XLR, expected to be launched at Paris later this year, and the A330-800, which it can offer at lower prices as a derivative against an all new model from Boeing, which would have higher development costs to amortize.

For the foreseeable future, the A321 appears to be the 757 replacement.  With a number of domestic airlines operating the 757 and needing replacement lift, Airbus is targeting the US market its long-range variants.  With Boeing pushing back its decision on the NMA to 2020, for a likely 2026 entry into service, Airbus could have a six year unopposed run in the market to replace an older 757 fleet that ranges in age from 15 to 38 years old.  The timing is right for Airbus to dominate the large narrow-body market over the next six years and increase their market penetration with US majors.

Boeing will likely launch the NMA in 2020, but could find strong headwinds for a business case that appears tenuous at best.  The A321 has become the true 757 replacement.

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