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May 20, 2024


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This model aircraft has, arguably, become the most important in commercial aviation.  Airbus gained market share and power because Boeing’s competitive model to the A321neo is the MAX 9.  The MAX 9 is not competitive, and the better competitor, the MAX 10, remains uncertified.

We have discussed the MoM segment numerous times, and the reasons we have focused on this market remain in play.  We also believe the A321neo and its variants are a fulcrum Airbus uses to squeeze Boeing effectively.  Airbus can discount A320neo prices and force Boeing to match or better that while charging more for the A321neo, absent an effective competitor.

The latest news about the A321neo is that United Airlines found 35 for its requirements in the MoM segment.  Aegean also upgraded four of its A321neo to the LR version.  From major network carriers to ULCCs, the MoM segment is attractive. The aircraft size is helpful because of its capacity.  The range has also grown, enabling operators to use it the same way airlines use the 787 – developing new routes.

This compelling combination of useful range and a capacity of 180-240 passengers proves to be a remarkable sweet spot. Boeing first identified and exploited this segment using the 757-200 and 767-200.  Boeing went on to develop the 757-300, 767-300 and 767-400.  Of these, the 767-300 was a segment winner and was only eclipsed by Airbus’ A330.

The 757-200 was a great success, and just over 1,000 were delivered.  Boeing’s 757 production system proved too expensive, and the model was dropped.  This proved to be an error.  How different would the market look today if Boeing worked on better industrialization and developed ways to continue offering aircraft in that class?  Using the stretched 737 proved not to be up to the task.

Meanwhile, Airbus stretched its A320 to an A321, which did not sell well compared to the 757.  However, when it became clear the 737-900ER was not in the same league as the 757-200, A321 sales started to pick up. In 2011, when Airbus announced the new versions, business took off.

The following chart shows US airline flights and the percentage of these flights that used MoM category models. MoM models include the 737-900, MAX 9, 757-200/300, A321ceo and A321neo.

DoT; AirInsight

Drilling down on the DoT data, the US market has seen the A321 eclipse its Boeing competitors.

DoT; AirInsight

The red triangles show the high point on each sparkline.  As the total line shows, MoM flights are peaking.  US airlines are deploying larger aircraft to benefit from upsizing and drive down costs.

How does the market beyond the US look?  Using the Skailark data, we offer the following chart.

Skailark; AirInsight

The lower right quadrant is the best spot, with the lowest fuel burn and longest-range flights. The lower left quadrant would be the second-best. The upper left quadrant is the least attractive, with the highest fuel burn and shortest range flights.

We offer the following table after digging deeper into each A321neo operator. Skailark’s data is impressively granular.

Skailark; AirInsight

The gap between the operator with the best fuel burn/ASM and the worst is nearly 40%.  Even though SAS is near the bottom of the table, it is by far the most efficient in the chart above. The sparklines give a clue as to where the trend is headed.

While this article is A321neo-focused, it should be clear that there is an engine subtext. For that comparison, we go back to US DoT sources.  The table below lists fuel burn among US A321neo operators.

DoT; AirInsight

Seat capacity influences the numbers; ULCCs with high seat counts benefit over lower seat count network operators.  Even so, the entire fleet delivers superb fuel burn numbers.

This is not a flippant superlative.  The 2023 industry average for single-aisle aircraft is 77.3.  The 2023 average fuel burn for the MAX family is 97.5, and the neo family is 101.5. The latest generation engines deliver more than 25% improvement in fuel burn. It is a wonder why the engine OEMs aren’t touting this statistic.

What we can say with some confidence is that the two engine options deliver state-of-the-art fuel burn.  The choice between engines is likely driven by other issues than fuel burn.

author avatar
Addison Schonland
Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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