TOULOUSE—Airbus has formally launched a long range version of the A321 with a 97-ton maximum take-off weight (MTOW). 

Air Lease Corporation (ALC) is the first to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for 30 of the type, making it the aircraft’s launch customer. 

First deliveries of the new Airbus A321neo version are planned for 2019. The aircraft will be equipped with a third auxiliary center fuel tank and could fly around 500-nm farther than the A321ceo with a regular 93.5 MTOW (and only two additional fuel tanks). For the aircraft, Airbus now assumes a standard cabin layout for 206 passengers. Airbus claims the calculated 4,000-nm range even exceeds the 3,850 nm of the winglet-equipped Boeing 757-200W. 

Currently, the longest route flown by the Boeing 757 is United’s New York-Berlin service, which at slightly more than 4,000 nm can only be flown with less-than-maximum payload. United has 169 seats on the transatlantic 757s.

Chief Operating Officer-Customers John Leahy sees a Boeing 757-replacement market for the 469 Boeing aircraft still flying, plus another 500 more. “We are burning up to 30% less fuel than the 757,” said at the Airbus annual press conference in Toulouse.

Airbus initially pitched the aircraft to airlines in a premium 164-seat layout with 20 seats in business class, 30 in premium-economy class, and 114 in economy. But discussions with potential customers showed that many airlines are interested in higher seat counts. In the premium configuration, the A321neo LR range decreases slightly to 3,904 nm because of extreme assumptions in terms of weight per passenger.

The 206-seat configuration assumes 16 seats in business class at a 36-in. pitch and 190 in economy at 30 inches. “The interest has gone beyond what we initially thought,” A320-Family Product Marketing Director Arnaud Demeusois said. 

Airbus is targeting airlines that currently fly the Boeing 757 on long-range routes, as well those that would fly such routes but cannot for lack of a suitable aircraft. Key routes defining the aircraft’s needed capabilities were U.S. East Coast to Central Europe, Europe to the Middle East, North to South America, Europe to West Africa, and Australia to South Asia.

One of the key segments in addition to transatlantic services is the market for flights departing Miami for South America. The aircraft can reach all key destinations in Brazil from the American airlines hub in Miami.

Airbus believes the aircraft will be complementary to widebodies and will not take traffic away from existing long-haul operations. The manufacturer sees an opportunity to attract current narrowbody operators that are evaluating the addition of long-haul routes, but would like to avoid the big step of adding widebody aircraft.

The Airbus Cabin Flex (ACF) concept on offer for the A321 will form the base for the aircraft’s new version. Airbus is offering a new, optional exit-door configuration in which door 2 is removed and replaced by a double-overwing exit. Also in this configuration, door 3 is moved aft. Some minor changes to the wing are also expected, leading to a weight increase below 100 kg. The standard-range variant and the 97-ton MTOW version would share the same build standard—thus shorter-haul operators will suffer a small weight penalty. Customers who have opted for the older door positioning are not affected.

ACF gives Airbus and the airlines more flexibility to configure the cabin for long-haul requirements. Boeing 757s are operated with relatively small business-class cabins, because they typically end in front of door 2 to reduce complexity in the cabin. 

However, in the case of the A321neo ACF layout, there is no more door 2 and larger premium cabins can be installed. The long-haul A321neo will also be equipped with movable bins that have been launched as an option earlier this year.

Because of the addition of three center fuel tanks, Airbus is losing significant volume in the baggage hold. So airline route calculations for the A321neo will have to take into account that, beyond passenger bags, hardly any cargo can be transported.