Airbus Looks To 2022 A321XLR Test Flights, Confirms Production Rates

Airbus A321XLR
Credit: Airbus

PARIS—Airbus is moving toward test flights of its new A321XLR and has “wind in its sails” on the question of an A350 freighter, the manufacturer said in a commercial programs update June 15.  

Airbus is making progress toward A321XLR flight tests in 2022 and is confident about the certification process, EVP Programs and Services Philippe Mhun said. 

“[These are] not only plans, DMUs, [these are] parts that we start to pre-assemble, and that will lead to flight tests in 2022, and to an entry into service of the aircraft in 2023,” Mhun said. “We’re getting ready. Some of the most advanced pieces of work [include] the rear center tank, which is being assembled now, but also section 15 and section 17 are being assembled.”   

When asked about the prospects for certification of the aircraft, Muhn said a certification plan is with regulatory authorities EASA and FAA, “which [are] of course addressing this additional rear central tank, which is a structural tank.”  

Chief Commercial Officer and Head of International Christian Scherer said numerous airline customers had approached the manufacturer with the idea of an A350 freighter, leading Airbus to react and consider the idea. “We have some wind in our sails towards seeing the emergence of an A350 freighter, as we consolidate our studies and our business case,” Scherer said, adding that a decision would be made “as soon as we’re done with the business case”.  

Scherer said there were no plans to stretch the aircraft even further. “I wish I had more earlier availability of the existing A321neo, the A321LR and the XLR. I do not feel that there is a need at this particular point to stretch the airplane. I don’t have it in my catalog.” 

Asked about the effect of the pandemic on backlogs, in particular outstanding orders from Air Asia, Garuda and Lion Air, Scherer said, “We have addressed proactively the consequences of the pandemic with every one of our customers. We have great relationships with the customers mentioned and we’re in active discussions with them to restructure their contracts. Airbus has no unsold inventory that is not either in extremely advanced stages of negotiation or already under contract or MOU.” 

Regarding planned cost reductions for the A220 program, Mhun said Airbus was “on track with our initial expectation in terms of what we can reach ... of course the pandemic created a little bit of a pause but we are more or less on track, and we still continue to bet on the product, we’ll still continue to invest in the product, and it’s going to be an important pillar in our portfolio strategy so I’m sure that we will bring the aircraft where it has to be to be a profitable product.” 

Chinese carriers are considering the A220, Scherer said, and a stretched version may eventually come to fruition.  

“There have been expressions of interest for the A220 from China, particularly in the regions outside the main bulk routes,” Scherer said.  “Regarding the stretch, the airplane has the capability of being stretched but before it is stretched it will reach its cruising altitude.” 

Asked about overall pricing pressure, Scherer said it was not a concern for the manufacturer, although pricing pressure does exist in the market.  

“We very nicely matched supply and demand on our products so as a consequence we don’t have a yard sale to conduct,” Scherer said. 

Projected Production Rates

In late May, Airbus gave an update on projected production rates, saying at the time it expected the commercial aircraft market to recover to pre-pandemic levels between 2023 and 2025, led by the single-aisle segment. In the June 15 briefing, the Airbus executives confirmed those projected rates. 

The manufacturer is planning on an average A320 Family production rate of 45 aircraft per month in the fourth quarter of 2021. Airbus is calling on its suppliers to secure a firm rate of 64 by the second quarter of 2023. Further, it is asking its suppliers to enable a “scenario” rate of 70 by the first quarter of 2024 and said it was “investigating opportunities” for rates as high as 75 by 2025. 

“On the A320 this is where the ramp-up is materializing and where we see the traffic recovering,” Muhn said.  

The A220 family production rate is set to rise to around six per month, up from the current five, by early 2022, with plans for a monthly production rate of 14 by the middle of the decade.  

On the widebody side, where the recovery is expected to take longer, A350 family production rates of five per month on average are set to rise to six by autumn 2022, while the A330 family should remain at an average production rate of two per month.  

The manufacturer also revealed June 14 that it would concentrate its efforts on metallic hydrogen tanks at two Zero-Emission Development Centers in Bremen, Germany and Nantes, France. “The goal of the ZEDC is to achieve cost-competitive cryogenic tank manufacturing to support the successful future market launch of ZEROe (Airbus’ hydrogen concept aircraft) and to accelerate the development of hydrogen-propulsion technologies,” Airbus said. 


 

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.