Boeing Raises Airbus A321XLR Safety Concerns

Filed Under: Misc.

Ultimately aviation safety is a collaborative effort, but are there limits to that?

Boeing’s Airbus A321XLR fuel tank concerns

In June 2019, Airbus revealed the new A321XLR, which will be the longest range narrow body aircraft in the world in 2023, when deliveries are scheduled to start.

This plane has been extremely popular with airlines — hundreds have already been ordered, and Boeing is nowhere near having an aircraft that can compete with this, so it’s no doubt a huge competitive advantage for Airbus.

American Airlines has ordered 50 Airbus A321XLRs

Well, Bloomberg is reporting that Boeing has expressed safety concerns with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) over the A321XLR. This is in response to a consultation paper by the regulator about Airbus’ plans to install insulation panels on the floor of the A321XLR.

In a filing, Boeing’s director of global regulatory strategy stated that:

“Fuel tanks integral to the airframe structure inherently provide less redundancy than structurally separate fuel tanks.”

Essentially the Airbus A321XLR will have extra fuel tanks underneath the floor of the passenger cabin, to give the plane additional range. Airbus is looking to install insulation panels between the cabin and fuel tanks — since there isn’t enough room to install ones fully meeting existing standards, the company needs some regulations to change.

Airbus now needs to prove through tests that these fuel tanks are as safe as previous designs. In the meantime Boeing is expressing concerns. The EASA has stated that it agrees with Boeing’s concerns around the “structural crashworthiness” of the tanks, and the risks of fire due to heat transfer from an external threat.

Airbus will have to prove that new A321XLR fuel tanks don’t pose a threat

Fair, ironic, or both?

Like I said, aviation safety is an industry-wide effort, so on the surface all safety concerns about a new design should be shared, in my opinion.

At the same time, given that this is coming from Boeing, the motive sure seems questionable. Boeing has just spent the past two years trying to get its 737 MAX ungrounded after two fatal crashes. Investigations have shown the extent to which Boeing tried to cover up safety concerns with the plane.

Yet here’s Boeing, publicly sharing safety concerns about Airbus’ newest plane, which it can’t compete with.

Personally I think Boeing’s feedback is ironic and not with the purest of intentions, but still fair, since ultimately all safety concerns should be addressed.

Should Boeing really be talking after the 737 MAX fiasco?

Bottom line

Boeing has raised concerns about the fuel tank design of Airbus’ new A321XLR aircraft, which is due to enter service in 2023. There’s no doubt a bit of irony to Boeing raising safety concerns about an Airbus aircraft after the 737 MAX fiasco, but hey, it’s probably all for the better in the end.

What do you make of Boeing’s concerns with the Airbus A321XLR?

  1. Sounds like a valid concern. I think the A321XLR will be a huge success.

    Regarding the 737MAX Airbus doesn’t exactly have the best track record neither.

    When the first A300 debuted at an air show didn’t it crash into a forest in Toulouse ?

  2. So, should Boeing stays quiet to a consultative paper they are being asked to respond to, within their knowledge area of expertise, and in which they arrive at the same preliminary conclusion as EASA ? I don’t argue that this is obviously opportunistic for Boeing but this is also a case where I think they will have to respond. It’s in public because the paper is published. I do believe that airplane manufacturers do not make up safety “issues” about their competitors’ products as part of their marketing strategy.

  3. It may well be a legitimate issue, but Boeing would be well advised to stick to its own knitting: the safety of the Max, the build quality of the Dreamliner, the success of the 777X, and work on the NMA – so that it has a worthy narrowbody competitor.

  4. If Boeing had only been this concerned with the 737 Max then they would not have killed 346 people. Airbus should send letter to the governments of Indonesia and Ethiopia asking for a criminal investigation into the executives at Boeing. If Boeing was a German company the executives would have already been arrested.

  5. Ironic – “ happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this.” Is Boeing’s opposition unexpected? Of course not. You should revise with a better word. Perhaps you mean hypocritical?

  6. The Airbus plane crash on first public view is A320, also the reason there’s only A320-200 and not -100.

  7. Yes, this seems like a weasely move by Boeing – who lives in totally glass house right now. That said, aviation safety is supposed to be everyone’s responsibility and they do have a right to raise these questions – even if the motives appear to be specious. I just wish more parties had raised a red flag regarding the general crappiness of the MAX design and embellishments made to the software in order to (supposedly) maintain it’s aerodynamic stability.

  8. Back in the day when the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 were competing for world-wide sales, a Boeing sales representative made a claim to a potential customer that the 707 was safer than the DC-8, based on the flying characteristics of the two planes.

    He was promptly fired by Boeing. Boeing told him that it was his job to sell the benefits of the 707 over the DC-8; and to not disparage the competition by claiming (falsely) that their product was not safe.

    Fast forward to 2021. Now Boeing is publicly claiming that the A321XL may be inherently unsafe based on a fuel tank design. In the end, Boeing may or may not be correct. But the analysis has not yet been completed and for Boeing to publicly take this stand at this time is foolish, unprofessional, and potentially damaging to the Boeing brand. Frankly, I expect more out of Boeing.

    Boeing does not have a product to compete with the A321XL. They were right in predicting that the ultimate success of the super jumbo (A380) will not happen, and that given the option people will prefer to travel nonstop to their destination; hence the need for smaller, intercontinental range aircraft. But they were wrong in not developing a new model to adequately address the long, thin, intercontinental markets. In the long run, this was a costly error.

    But then again, Boeing had a plane that was proven at the time to be inherently unsafe (the 737 Max). Wisely, Airbus kept their mouth shut and continued selling derivatives of their A320 and A321.

    Score one for Airbus.

  9. Boeing weighing in on safety sounds like the United States weighing in on Democracy. Probably best to keep quiet and leave the adults in charge.

  10. Since Boeing has been building so many different types of aircraft for over 100 years, I assume they know what they’re talking about. Maybe a little concern for safety from a competitor is a good thing. Maybe Airbus should have warned Boeing about the Max.

  11. The same Boeing that likes to stress test its wing to .54 .50 is the goal, but the extra was added to show its even safer before failure in load testing. The 777X’s wing failed at .53 Boeing shrugged it off. Also the door blew off in another 777X test. Hmmmmm, think on that.

    787 grounding, and 787 planes continue to be grounded due to engine problems, and cracking.

  12. While Boeing’s objection might be hypocritical, I DO have a problem with the idea that when a manufacturer submits a design that is outside of safety regulations, they ask the regulator to change the regulations instead of altering the design.

    That is NOT a good solution. In fact, it’s exactly what Boeing had been doing for 15 years that led to almost complete regulatory capture.

  13. Is this Boeing’s place to questions concerns over other aircraft? Doesn’t Boeing already have it’s own set of problems it should probably worry about before worrying about anyone else?

    The way I see it I will NOT board any Boeing plane built after 1995 for my OWN safety!

  14. Thumbs-up to Boeing, regardless of optics. “The time is always right to do what is right.” -MLK Jr.

  15. @D3kingg

    As previously stated, the Airbus that crashed at Mulhouse-Habsheim was one of the first A320 models produced. It was being used by Air France an air show demonstration at the air park.

    The Captain in charge de-activated “Alpha Floor Protection” which is designed to automatically spool up the engines if there is an impending stall. This was done to show the crowd how the “Alpha Protection” (another system that prevents a stall by keeping the angle of attack within limits), could keep the plane aloft.

    The Captain did not take into account that the CFM Engines installed on the aircraft need a solid 5-7 seconds to spool up from idle. Once thrust was fed to the engines manually, it was too late. Had Alpha Floor Protection not been de-activated, Airbus Law would have automatically increased engine thrust well before this happened.

    Ultimately, yes, the plane crashed. However, the structure remained intact and all 136 passengers and crew onboard survived the initial impact. 3 lives were ultimately lost due to smoke inhalation while evacuating the wreckage.

    This was incredibly embarrassing for Air France, Airbus, and French aviation. However, the plane crashed due to the crew turning the safety protections OFF. Since 1988, the Airbus A320 has zero recorded crashes or hull losses attributed to Fly-by-Wire system or Airbus Law failure. The A320 family is an incredibly safe aircraft to fly, comparable to many Boeing aircraft (sans-MAX).

  16. @PDT
    I don’t care who makes safety referrals as long as they are legitimate. Lets err on the side of safety.

  17. @ Tony the A320 family has had 14 crashes. Granted most are pilot error as are almost all aircraft accidents. There has been concern over the Airbus theory of automation, vs Boeing theory of letting the pilots fly. I am concerned that with both planes having so much automation pilots are losing their skills. However Boeing needs to kick the Mcdonnell/douglas morons to the street and go back to innovating.

  18. @Josh

    I agree. It’s fair but it makes Boeing look stupid for making that statement with the shape they’re currently in. I was leery when I heard the 737 maxes were cleared. But after what’s happening with the 777s I don’t know what to think.

  19. It is a valid concern. Most commercial jets have their tanks in the wings and center tanks protected by the wing box (the strongest part of the plane). Wings can break off and take away most of the fuel with it. The A380 had tanks in the horizontal stabilizer. Just from a crash safety perspective it is concerning. Some commercial aircraft configured as private jets have added tanks built into the cargo area but those aren’t commercial flights crammed with passengers. Those aren’t cycled as frequently.

    Inerting is another concern. Wing tanks have proven to be pretty safe. Center wing tanks are more of a concern due to the heat and equipment housed around those tanks. I myself like the nitrogen inerting systems better than just only insulation of ignition sources. Putting the extra tank somewhere else makes me nervous. Will it have a nitrogen inerting system?

    For all the justified criticism Boeing gets (they operate like globalist bureaucrats), Airbus has center of gravity issues on the A320neo like the Max. The A400 isn’t loved by its customers, and Airbus had problems with the pitot tubes. Airbus doesn’t get a pass because they are more competent than Boeing.

  20. Based on the story and the Comments, Boeing is definitely in a no-win situation:

    Sit quietly, and if an accident happens with the Airbus A321XLR, then Boeing will be rightly condemned for not timely speaking up with their safety concerns.

    Speak up now, as they have, and be accused of using the regulatory process to deter/delay/prevent a competitor from bringing a new product to market.

    Sometimes in life, all the options suck.

  21. Looks like a concern concocted by MAGAts now crawling inside the rotting body of Boeing.

  22. “Fuel tanks integral to the airframe structure inherently provide less redundancy than structurally separate fuel tanks.”

    Su-27? That thing have integrated fuel tank everywhere and yet fly better than you F-15

  23. Boeing needs to take their noses out of Airbus’s business. They need to worry about their own internal issues like fixing the Lemon KC-46A Pegasus and getting that plane to a 5 star status for the USAF and among other issues.

  24. I think it’s not fair to question Boeing’s intend. Boeing just learned the importance of safety in aviation the hard way. This isn’t bean counters in Boeing seeking competitive advantage, these are the good boys. Engineers reviewing a design for safety flaws, and they’ll surely strive to review their own designs with equal scrutiny. We should encourage them, they’ll be the ones capable of rebuilding Boeing’s reputation going forward.

  25. @Aj

    Funny you should say sometimes all options suck. The options suck worse when they are of Boeings own making. Boeing traded their integrity when they actively tried to hide their failing MCAS flight control system.

    They had been outsourcing the coding to the MCAS system to India to engineers being paid $9.00 an hour. So they could cut the jobs of engineers here in the U.S. mainly because those Boeing engineers don’t come cheap, nor should they.

    Their pay is commensurate with their skills, abilities.

    Since Boeing has no plane that can compete, and it seems no plane that’s totally reliable. If it’s not the MCAS system, it’s the Pratt and Whitney engines flying apart and bursting into flames.

    It’s nice that Boeing wants to take the time to clean Airbus’s doorstep, before bothering to clean their own. Boeing isn’t doing this out of any safety “concerns”. Because if Boeing was really concerned about safety they would’ve paid much closer attention to their MCAS system, that ultimately killed 336 people.

  26. It’s ironic, boeing is the last company that should mention ANYTHING about safety concerns! Your nightmareliner needs to be rectified and let me not forget the “STAR” of aviation media, the MAX!!!!!

  27. Well the flag up from Boeing sure seems facetious after the 737-MAX fiasco but I have to admit that I am slightly concerned.

    The idea of fuel tanks under the cabin floor seems quite scary to me particularly given the emphasis on keeping airframes light. The EU safety authorities have also flagged this up so let’s hope they will look into this.

  28. When are people going to realise that boeing is no longer an advanced engineering company, when northrup Grumman merged, bought the company, it was all about the profit and loss statements. Engineers retired in mass quanitys. Simply because they were told to make it cheap ,not good. This is what several former engineers told me, I very much understand profit and loss ,but at the cost of how many human lives?

  29. Simply, if one company does something like add integrated fuel tanks, then every other company will be obligated to follow suit. I see this as stopping an issue before I happens. A win win for the public.

  30. @Leo Liang “Su-27? That thing have integrated fuel tank everywhere and yet fly better than you F-15”

    Do you understand that airliners are not built like fighter jets, where conformal fuel tanks are now very commonplace, but designed with ACM structural considerations from the outset?

    As for comparing your Su-27 vs F-15, your claim is totally meaningless and irrelevant unless you define what you mean by “fly better”!

  31. Gregg says:
    March 3, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    “… Boeing had a plane that was proven at the time to be inherently unsafe (the 737 Max). Wisely, Airbus kept their mouth shut and continued selling derivatives of their A320 and A321…”

    Wisely? Seriously? WTF-

    Peer review. The more the merrier. Frankly, if Airbus had evidence of faulty design of the Max and did nothing, I’d consider them liable for something …

    If these two beat each others brains in over the safety of their products, we benefit at the end of the day.

  32. Boeing is a shill for safety and is only trying to rehabilitate their image. The fact is I won’t get on a 737Max. F their corporate greed.

  33. Typical Boeing trash propaganda. They killed over 300 people with 737MAX du to their greed and now they talk about safety!? Is this some kind of joke? They don’t have product which would compete with A321XLR so they start smear campaign instead of hard work on new airplane which airlines and passengers want. Boing is disgusting and I do not intend to fly on their airplanes especially 737MAX.

  34. By the way. Congratulations Ben for not removing comments under this article and not following other aviation websites which removed comments completely under articles abut this topic. It seems that your are much more resistant to Boing pressure for censoring negative comment about their smear campaign. One more time congratulations and big thank you.

  35. @ Ethan
    There were 21 A320-100 models manufactured.After an increase in maximum takeoff weight and range it became the A320-200.The limited number of 100 series manufuctured had nothing to do with safety.Pilot error was found to be the cause of the airshow crash.

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