Airbus has scored another victory with a large A321XLR order from United Airlines. United will also defer its A350-900 order until at least 2027.
United Orders 50 Airbus A321XLR To Replace Boeing 757s
For years, United has sought a replacement for its aging 757-200 fleet. Many airlines, including United, hoped that Boeing would develop a replacement for the 757 (and 767) that was larger than a stretched 737 but smaller than a 787 Dreamliner. This so-called NMA (new midsize airplane, also called the 797) has been rumored since 2015.
But with Boeing concentrating resources into its troubled 737 MAX program and exploring options for a Future Small Airplane (FSA) to replace the MAX, it became clear that there would be no new NMA anytime soon.
Enter Airbus, and its new A321XLR. It has the range to take on transatlantic missions while offering fuel efficiency and the latest onboard technology.
United is very blunt about its purpose for the new order:
The order enables us to begin replacing and retiring our existing Boeing 757-200 aircraft and further meet our operational needs by pairing the optimal aircraft with select transatlantic routes.
Deliveries will begin in 2024 and United will continue to operate its 757-300 fleet from the former Continental side.
United plans “additional destinations in Europe” from Newark (EWR) and Washington Dulles (IAD) utilizing this new aircraft.
A321XLR: New Technology, Better Range
Speaking about the new order, United’s Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said:
“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network. In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR’s range capabilities open potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe.”
The A321XLR range is up to 4,700 nautical miles. Meanwhile, the 757-200 range is 3,900 nautical miles. That opens up additional options in Europe and South America from both EWR and IAD.
Here’s a map showing the range of the A321XLR (red) versus 757-200 (green)
New features on the A321XLR include:
- LED lighting
- Larger overhead bin space
- Faster Wi-Fi connectivity
More importantly, the A321XLR reduces fuel burn by 30% compared to 757-200.
> Read More: Big Brother Airbus Is Monitoring You Very Closely…
My initial presumption was that this aircraft would be configured in one way and used for transatlantic travel exclusively (especially with the 737 Max 10 still coming). That may not be the case. In a note to staff, United said:
We are in the very early stages of selecting features and amenities for this aircraft. However, we do plan to feature an intercontinental configuration for the A321XLR.
United will not comment further at this time, but you could read this to mean that there will be multiple configurations. Currently the 757-200 has two variants, a version with 16 seats in business class and one with 28 seats. The 16-seat version is overwater qualified and makes transatlantic journeys while the 28-seat configuration is used only for premium transcontinental travel.
The wildcard is the 737 Max 10, of which United has 100 on order. If United follows through on its plan to use these for premium transcontinental routes, the A321XLR can be used exclusively for intercontinental flights.
United Defers A350 Delivery
United will defer the delivery of its Airbus A350-900 order until 2027 “to better align with our operational needs”. Could this be the death knell for the A350 in the United fleet?
United is still awaiting delivery on:
- 4 777-300ER
- 13 787-9
- 5 787-10
(plus the huge narrowbody orders)
With 50 A321XLR coming to the fleet, there is no short-term need for an additional 45 A350-900. But the A350s are intended to replace the 777-200 fleet, which is still the plan. Retirements will begin in 2027. I do wonder if this third deferral will stick. As much as I love that aircraft, there may be something totally new in the works by 2027.
United Still Interested In NMA To Replace 767
Boeing is not totally shut out. Nocella added that United would still consider a NMA from Boeing to replace the 767:
“The order for the XLR does not mean we’ve shut the door on ordering the NMA in the future. Once Boeing further refines the mission capabilities and details of the NMA, we will actually take a close look at that.”
With huge orders from American, JetBlue and United in the USA and others around the world, Airbus is off to a flying start with its A321XLR program. With Boeing mired in its 737 MAX trap, Airbus is seizing the moment. The latest United order is not only another victory for Airbus, but another missed opportunity for Boeing.