Airbus flies new passenger airplane aimed at 'long, thin' routes

The A321XLR assumes you're happy spending 11 hours in a single-aisle plane

European aviation giant Airbus this week successfully flew a new "long, thin" passenger airplane that the world's airlines think could let them open new routes.

The plane is called the "A321XLR" and is the newest member of the single-aisle, twinjet, A320 family.

The "XLR" is the important part of the name because it stands for "Extra Long Range" – 4,700NM (8,700km) to be precise – a capability that means the plane can fly 11-hour hops and trips like New York to Rome, London to Delhi, or Sydney to Tokyo.

Today such routes are usually served by wide-body aircraft. The A321XLR will make them possible in a fuel-sipping single aisle 200-seater that can use shortish runways, and which Airbus insists offers passengers all the comforts of a wide-body interior.

Airbus asserts the A321XLR will be cheaper to operate than wide bodies on such routes. The plane maker is also suggesting the A321XLR's range could allow long distance flights between smaller cities, doing away with unloved stopovers at big hub airports.

Such long distance routes are sometimes described as "thin" – aviation jargon for modest passenger demand. Long and thin routes are very scarce today.

Airbus wants to change that and has 515 advance orders for the A321XLR on its books to attest to airlines' enthusiasm for the idea.

Which brings us to Wednesday when the first A321XLR took to the skies and, according to Airbus, spent four hours and 35 minutes aloft conducting various tests.

That the plane returned safely suggests those tests went tolerably well, and its planned 2024 commercial debut remains within reach.

In 2018 The Register covered the debut of the A321LR, which boasts a mere nine-hour flying time and 7,400km range. Readers expressed a mixture of admiration for the low fares the plane could create, plus misgivings about spending so much time in a small aircraft.

Does the A321XLR's stretched range stretch the friendship to breaking point? Feel free to hit the comments and let us know. ®

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