Airbus confirms A321XLR, trails A330neo orders in new market segments

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2019 is a transitional year for Airbus as the A220 beds into the airframer’s product line, the A380 heads into the sunset and further evolutions of the A320neo and A350 families continue to be mooted. The Paris Air Show is also the first major show since Airbus itself reorganised around a new executive team, notably on the commercial side with Guillaume Faury essentially succeeding both Tom Enders and Fabrice Brégier, and Christian Scherer taking over for larger-than-life chief salesman John Leahy.

“I have the easiest job in this industry, owing to the quality of our products,” Scherer quipped at the beginning of a media briefing in Paris the Friday before the airshow. And indeed, the airframer is forecasting substantial demand.

“Our global market forecast sees, over the next twenty years, a little bit more than 37,000 commercial aircraft delivering into this market, of which about 28,500 or so are single aisle. In the medium category, we see about 5,500, and in the larger category about 3,300 aircraft,” Scherer said.

Scherer teased sales of the A330neo this week. Image: Airbus

The key change for Airbus’ forecast is the absence of the A380’s ’XL’ segment, which it has combined together. Scherer’s slides split out “small” as the A220 (né Bombardier C Series) and the “A320 family”, which used an A320neo as illustration.

Separated from the “A320 family” on the “medium” slide is the A321neo — interestingly using the livery of the A321LR neo variant, but with the A321neo label — and the A330neo.

“Large”, following the sunsetting of the A380 programme, is the A350 family, with both the -900 and -1000 shown on Scherer’s slides.

“About a good third of deliveries are foreseen to be in the greater Asia-Pacific region, including China and India of course. Europe, North America and South America are about the same, and then the rest of the world are the other third,” Scherer said.

Airbus’ latest sales totals for the A330neo are looking up. Screenshot: Airbus

Scherer noted that Airbus’ forecast is relatively lower than others’ (particularly Boeing’s) in the single-aisle category, noting at the same time Airbus’ previous and current strength in this market segment, both with the strong sales of the A320 family at the higher end of the category and the A220 at the lower end.

“In the middle of the bell-shaped curve of distribution of aircraft, we have the very, very proven new neo families, the A320neo family and the A330neos. Then on the side, on the smaller capacity aircraft we have a brand new family with the A220, and on the upper long-range segment we have a brand-new — the only brand-new — capacity long-range family with the A350s,” Scherer said.

The A220 has dwarfed the A319neo in sales. Image: Airbus

There is, of course something of a cognitive disconnect between Scherer’s criticism of the 777X, positioning the A350 as the “only brand-new” airplane while also calling the A330neo “brand new”.

“In the infamous middle of the market, we address it with two solutions,” Scherer noted. “We address it with the A321neo, as I mentioned now with an exit limit of up to 240 seats and a range of 4000 [nautical] miles and, hint hint hint, maybe a little bit more in the near future.”

In other words: following some muted messages last month, expect the A321XLR this week.

The A350-1000 is 24cm narrower than the 777. Image:L Airbus

“That’s the lower end of the medium, the mid-size market. At the upper end of the mid-size market we have a brand new airplane called the A330neo,” Scherer said, highlighting the mixed-fleet opportunities of the A320 and A330 families, as used by airlines including Finnair and Thomas Cook that operate both aircraft, creating substantial pilot rostering efficiencies.

In an effort to push back against the narrative of the A330neo as slow-selling, Scherer noted that there are “19 customers for the A330neo, of a total market that has 121 customers.”

Scherer also gave a nudge-nudge, wink-wink nod that he expects to announce more A330neo orders at Le Bourget, saying that the market should, “by the way, keep watching. The A330 is a very efficient way to address this marketplace.”

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