I don't see a need for a stretched A321. We have the A330 (and 787) if an airline require higher capacity for short to medium haul flights into a slot constrained airport. If the airport isn't slot constrained, it will be better to just increase A321 frequency. Higher aircraft utilization is also a reason to use A330/787 on high demand, shorter haul routes. I can't find the reference now, but Leahy once said (in relation to the launch of the A330 regional) that the average for the A330 is a 1800 nm flight.
One of the many benefits of the A321 is the C gate compatibility. Its actually a D class aircraft in air, but C gate on the ground. There are lots of C gates (max wingspan 36 meters) available, and the A321 is the highest capacity aircraft that can use a C gate. Another is its ability to fly into smaller airports that can't handle a widebody. Its runway performance and containerized cargo system are other benefits. It is also a highly flexible aircraft that can be used on medium to long haul segments, or with ACT removed can be used on short haul flight at high density (soon also with 240 passengers onboard). Any stretch of the A321 would erase the many of these benefits.
Being able to cut costs and offer cheaper tickets, while still makeing a profit, is what drives the industry and acquisition of new aircraft. Squeeze in more seats, demand extra for luggage and seat reservation, paying extra for food and drinks etc., has all been done. Lowering salaries for crew, using new fuel efficient aircraft, and high aircraft utilization, has also been done. I only see one major untapped area, and that is more direct flights. A direct flight is shorter, which saves fuel and crew costs. It also saves all costs associated with transfer at a hub, including passengers taxes, aircraft landing fees, terminal costs, baggage handling etc. and costs accruing when connections at hubs are lost. Even Y-passengers might be willing to pay a little extra for the convenience of a direct flight and shorter travel time.
The fuselage of the A321 does not need lengthening. The A321 needs more range than the A321LR can offer, and wings that have been optimized for long haul. I think the best way forward is to develop a new derivate of the A321, retaining the fuselage but with new CFRP wings. Let's call this aircraft A322, since we aren't talking about a replacement of the current A321, just a new variant. With new lightweight wings optimized for high altitude cruising, with A350 wing technology, with more fuel stored in the wings, that is more weight closer to the lift, which at the same time is freeing up cargo bay space (no ACTs). New wings optimized for high altitude cruising also means widebody speed. Such an A322 would be an ideal plane for opening up direct service on medium to long haul flights. Connecting new city pairs thru direct service also increases traffic, which equals growth.
The CEO of Norwegian, which have ordered 43 787 Dreamliners (if I remember correctly), said during a press conference that the A321LR was even more fuel efficient than the 787. This was said when Norwegian converted 30 aircraft of their 100 A320neo order to the A321LR. Norwegian configures their long haul aircraft with 10% Y+ and 90% Y. In this configuration their A321LR will have 220 seats, compared to a 787-8 with 290 seats. The CEO said that the combination of not having to sell so many seats and still have that good fuel efficiently per seat, is why he ordered the A321LR. Smaller aircraft have a lower trip cost (important when you can't fill the seats), and higher flexibility for a different utilization during the low season. Smaller aircraft also mean lower risks when opening new routes. I think many LCC, that are considering starting up long haul flights, would prefer to add a long haul A320 family narrowbody to their fleet, instead for investing in a new widebody fleet like Norwegian has done.
Airbus should further enhance these properties of the A321LR, creating a longer range aircraft, a narrowbody optimized for long haul within the A320 family. The next step in cost cutting will come by flying direct, avoiding the high costs at hubs and shortening flight time. This requires smaller, longer haul capable aircraft than what is available today.
Last edited by reidar76
on Sun Jan 15, 2017 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.