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Airbus Completes First A321XLR Test Flight

SimpleFlying 6/15/2022 Charlotte Seet
© Provided by SimpleFlying

The size of an aircraft will soon not truly matter if it's a narrowbody or a widebody, as even small can now go the extra long distance. Change is coming as on June 15th, the newest and biggest narrowbody aircraft, the Airbus A321XLR, successfully completed its maiden test flight.

Her maiden voyage

Registered as F-WXLR (MSN11000), the brand-new aircraft took off from Airbus' production site at Hamburg Finkenwerder Airport at 11:05, performing a 4-hour and 34-minute test flight over Northern Germany before returning successfully to Hamburg at 15:40. The Airbus A321XLR was fitted with CFM LEAP-1A engines and was assembled in one of the four Airbus A320 family assembly lines known as 'FAL Line 2', which is located inside a building named 'Hangar-9'.

Philippe Mhun, Airbus EVP Programmes, and Services, said:

"This is a major milestone for the A320 Family and its customers worldwide. With the A321XLR coming into service, airlines will be able to offer long-haul comfort on a single-aisle aircraft, thanks to its unique Airspace cabin. The A321XLR will open new routes with unbeatable economics and environmental performance."

A five-person flight crew conducted the first test flight, the two pilots named Thierry Diez and Gabriel Diaz de Villegas, and three Airbus engineers, Philippe Pupin and Mehdi Zeddoun, and Frank Hohmeister. During the test flight, the crew tested the aircraft's flight controls, engines, and main systems, including flight envelope protections at high and low speeds.

Upcoming testing voyages

There are four Airbus A321XLR campaign aircraft, and the three others waiting for their voyages are MSN11058, MSN11080, and MSN6839. No date has been specified yet for the second test flight, but MSN11058 is the only campaign aircraft fitted with Pratt & Whitney GTF engines. The aircraft has completed the final assembly phase and now sits within the Working Party, where all flight test instrumentation is installed and tested.

As for MSN11080, the aircraft has also completed the final assembly phase, its cabin is being completed, and limited flight test instrumentation is being installed. The fourth aircraft, MSN6839, was the prototype aircraft dedicated to early flight tests, so it is unlikely that this bird will be flying on more test voyages soon.

In recent weeks leading up to fly day, Airbus had conducted the first commissioning of the CFM LEAP-1A engines and ground tests of the new power unit, including low and high-speed taxiing and rejected take-offs. Photo: Airbus

Flying the extra distance

Since the Airbus A321XLR made its first presentation on the first morning of the 53rd Paris Air Show in 2019, numerous airlines worldwide have gone crazy over the extra-long-range variant of the very reliable and ever-popular Airbus A320neo family aircraft. The still-growing customer list includes international carriers such as Qantas, United Airlines, and most recently, Air Canada. To date, Airbus has accumulated more than 500 orders from over 20 customers worldwide, contributing to the more than 8,000 orders achieved for the Airbus A320neo family.

The European aircraft manufacturing giant dubbed the Airbus A321XLR a 'game-changer' in the history of narrowbody aircraft. With a range of 4,7000 nautical miles, the Airbus A321XLR flies 15% further than the current narrowbody, allowing airlines to successfully service thinly flown long-distance routes without hefty costs or having to force passengers to fly indirectly through more significant international hubs. Such routes could include Miami to London, New York to Rome, Sydney to Kuala Lumpur, and even Santiago-Houston; the aircraft would be the lowest risk route opener.

What gives this narrowbody aircraft such an extended long-range? The answer lies in Airbus' design of a new rear-center fuel tank molded into the lower end of the aircraft's fuselage. Unfortunately, the same design raised safety concerns within the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the event of a post-crash fire due to a belly landing. As a result, the Toulouse-based manufacturer had to delay until 2024 before the Airbus A321XLR could enter service as it sorts out with the EASA regarding the fuel tank certification, demonstrating its insulation plan is safe and perhaps deal with some additional structural work.

EASA wanted the design of the fuel tank to be further strengthened using composites and more durable materials to prevent the possible spread of fire to the rest of the aircraft if it occurs. Photo: Airbus

Less than two years to go

As the final version of the expectations of the EASA is still unknown, the stricter fire regulations could delay the estimated entry into service for the Airbus A321XLR even further. And while Airbus claims it is still too early to speculate about confirmed and ready solutions when the aircraft had only flown slightly over four hours, the manufacturer also remains confident that entry into service remains targeted for early 2024.

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