Iberia Now Airbus A321XLR Launch Customer, Replaces Aer Lingus

Iberia Now Airbus A321XLR Launch Customer, Replaces Aer Lingus

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Iberia has just officially become the new global launch customer for the Airbus A321XLR, thanks to Aer Lingus’ ongoing pay dispute with pilots.

Iberia will be first airline to fly Airbus A321XLR

In June 2019, Airbus formally launched the Airbus A321XLR, which will be the world’s longest range narrow body jet. This aircraft is based on the Airbus A321 family of aircraft, but features even more incremental range improvement over the A321neo and A321LR (which already have more range than the A321ceo).

Airlines have ordered hundreds of these jets, as they look for long range, low capacity jets, that can open up all kinds of new markets. The first A321XLR is expected to be delivered to airlines in Q3 2024.

The launch customer for the plane is International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, etc. The company ordered 14 of these jets, with eight intended for Iberia and six intended for Aer Lingus.

Initially the plan was for Aer Lingus to be the launch customer for the plane, but that’s no longer the case. Iberia is now the global launch customer for the A321XLR, and the jet should enter service before the end of 2024, assuming all goes as planned.

Iberia has even announced the first routes to get the A321XLR. Presumably after some crew familiarization flights, the jet will make its long haul debut flying from Madrid (MAD) to both Boston (BOS) and Washington (IAD). The exact entry into service details remain to be seen. We also haven’t yet learned what to expect from the interiors of these jets.

While the A321XLR is marketed as opening up new markets that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, in this case the jet simply represents a downgrade for existing routes that are currently operated by A330s.

Iberia Airbus A321XLR

Why Aer Lingus is no longer Airbus A321XLR launch customer

As mentioned above, Aer Lingus was supposed to be the first airline to start flying the Airbus A321XLR, so what happened? Aer Lingus has been having a pay dispute with its pilots, as management and the union haven’t been able to agree on new pay rates.

Aer Lingus pilots are looking for salary increases of more than 20%, to reflect inflation over the years, plus salaries at competing airlines. Meanwhile management hasn’t been willing to budge beyond an 8.5% raise.

Management has threatened that if pilots don’t agree to a deal, the airline will defer Airbus A321XLR deliveries for the airline (and in turn, reduce flying opportunities for pilots). The two parties had until April 29, 2024, to come to an agreement, and were unable to do so.

IAG has long taken a ruthless approach to negotiations with staff, so I’m not surprised to see that the company followed through with its threat. As a spokesperson explains:

“Unfortunately, Aer Lingus was not able to give IAG the cost structure assurances necessary for this investment and so the inaugural A321 XLR – originally planned for Aer Lingus – will be allocated elsewhere in the group.”

Now, it’s worth emphasizing that for now, only the first A321XLR delivery has been allocated to Iberia, so getting the second (or third) A321XLR is still potentially in the cards, if an agreement can be reached. Furthermore, it’s just the timeline that’s being delayed here, and it’s not necessarily that the number of jets going to Aer Lingus is changing (though management threatens that could happen if a favorable deal isn’t reached).

Keep in mind that Aer Lingus already has eight Airbus A321LRs in its fleet, which is the slightly shorter range version of the same jet. So in many ways, Aer Lingus already has a jet capable of operating similar services (between Ireland and the Northeast of the United States and Canada).

For Aer Lingus, the greatest benefit of the A321XLR would just be absolute growth, rather than necessarily opening up new markets. Meanwhile Iberia doesn’t have a comparable jet yet.

Aer Lingus Airbus A321XLR

Bottom line

If all goes as planned, Iberia will be the global launch customer for the Airbus A321XLR, and should start flying the jet as of late 2024. This is an exciting new aircraft that’s going to open up all kinds of new markets for airlines. Iberia states that it will fly these aircraft from Madrid to both Boston and Washington, though we’ll have to stay tuned for the details (hopefully in the future it’s used to actually open up new markets, rather than downgrade existing routes).

Aer Lingus was supposed to be the launch customer for the A321XLR, though a pay dispute with pilots has caused the airline to defer these deliveries.

What do you make of Iberia’s Airbus A321XLR plans?

Conversations (28)
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  1. gary tromer Guest

    Beautiful aircraft. Good luck and happy landings to Iberia airlines.

  2. Portlanjuanero Member

    While I think seasonal growth out of BCN would be really wise, my top guesses for new expansion would be MCO and YYZ. I suspect both could handle a few times a week given the extensive connection network at MAD

  3. A. Ruiz Guest

    What about MAD - MCO - MAD and BCN - MCO - BCN?
    South Floridian have a long journey traveling to ... only MIA with IB, AA or AE or ATL, JFK, BOS....

  4. Scudder Diamond

    I’ll be interested to see if IB ever launches flights that *aren't* to/from MAD, and maybe add flying from secondary Spanish cities to AA hubs on the east coast.

    Also, I’d love to see a daytime JFK-MAD, but I realize that’s wishful thinking.

    1. Throwawayname Guest

      The only thing that you need to know about that is that the sister company of British Airways doesn't go to Britain's second city (BHX), and even MAN (from where there's also transatlantic service on EI) is only done a few times a week by Iberia Express!

    2. Portlanjuanero Member

      IB does operate select long haul out of BCN - in the US I think it's only MIA and JFK. For expansion purposes, growing at BCN (which is far more focused on point to point) would seem the most logical for these planes

    3. Ben Holz Guest

      Those TATL "IB" flights ex-BCN are operated by Level, which is IB's low cost transcontinental subsidiary... Think of it as Vueling, but with wide bodies (so no business, slightly worse Y product than mainline IB and very limited elite benefits).

  5. mofly New Member

    West Africa can be very lucrative for European airlines.

  6. StevieMIA Guest

    Didn't United fly 757s to Spain at some point? or is it still flying them regularly? Delta fly them to Malaga IIRC, United could totally fly IAD-MAD too but I think they can actually fill widebodies year round. It would be ideal if they could fly these to One World hubs where they're not currently flying widebodies but I don't see AA feeding Iberia if they could do the same with their own XLRs. It's...

    Didn't United fly 757s to Spain at some point? or is it still flying them regularly? Delta fly them to Malaga IIRC, United could totally fly IAD-MAD too but I think they can actually fill widebodies year round. It would be ideal if they could fly these to One World hubs where they're not currently flying widebodies but I don't see AA feeding Iberia if they could do the same with their own XLRs. It's a shame BCN is not a real Iberia hub, it would be a thrill to fly there on a full service spanish carrier.

  7. Exit Row Seat Guest

    Is Iberia using these for point to point Madrid, or to entice connections deeper in Europe like BA or KLM?

    1. Portlanjuanero Member

      IB has an extensive short haul network. Just anecdotally speaking, I would guess IB is actually far more reliant on connecting traffic than BA. Bc of their LatAm network, IB is often one of the only transatlantic options for their destinations, making them the default carrier for any destination in western Europe or North Africa

  8. Mark Guest

    Funny the artwork is exactly the same except for the swap in liveries.

  9. JC Edwards Guest

    If the A320 family (and the 737 variants) have become the power horses of domestic and intracontinental routes, like the 727, 737 and DC9 were in the 1960-1990s, I wonder if the A321 is poised to become the contemporary 707 and DC8 series. Long live narrowbodies!

  10. stogieguy7 Diamond

    Iberia has a lot of room for expansion with the A321-XLR. Numerous North American cities (BDL, RDU, CLE, DTW, CLT, etc) are in play with it, as would be some Caribbean and northern South American markets. And...parts of Africa too. All are markets that may not have enough demand to fill an A330, but for which an A321 would work.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Nearly all of which they'd get slaughtered on, save perhaps for CLT due to the J/V with AA.

    2. IrishAlan Diamond

      EI already flies to both BDL and CLE due to subsidies. There are rumors that RDU is on EI’s radar. I don’t see any reason why IB wouldn’t try some of these airports. I actually think CLT is the least likely for IB since AA already flies to MAD and they hate partner competition at CLT. They’re currently the only OneWorld carrier at CLT having chased BA away after the US Airways merger.

    3. Kiwi Guest

      Only problem with that is for all intents and purposes BA AA and IB are one carrier across the North Atlantic, so BA leaving was related to optimization of the collective network and demand

    4. Throwawayname Guest

      Nobody South of Munich has any interest in flying (whether for work or leisure) to these N. American places, and those based in NW Europe would likely prefer shorter routings on their usual airline. It would be an exclusively inbound leisure market, could possibly just about break even as a summer seasonal but it won't be a priority. Florida and Texas (and maybe MTY?) could work if coordinated with AA.

      The likes of West Africa...

      Nobody South of Munich has any interest in flying (whether for work or leisure) to these N. American places, and those based in NW Europe would likely prefer shorter routings on their usual airline. It would be an exclusively inbound leisure market, could possibly just about break even as a summer seasonal but it won't be a priority. Florida and Texas (and maybe MTY?) could work if coordinated with AA.

      The likes of West Africa and LAD (assuming the range is sufficient for that), however, could generate quite a bit of profit for them with the right aircraft.

  11. Dt123 Gold

    "in this case the jet simply represents a downgrade for existing routes that are currently operated by A330s"

    I can't speak for Boston; However, dulles is only a seasonal route at the moment. My understanding is that dulles wouldn't get Iberia flights during the winter without the 321XLR.

    I suspect Iberia will serve dulles in a capacity similar to SAS currently, 321 in the winter season, a330/350 in the summer

  12. Andy Diamond

    In addition to BOS and IAD, I think also some additional cities in Brazil are thinkable, e.g., SSA, REC. Also perhaps DXB.

    1. StevieMIA Guest

      Middle East would work well for Iberia with A321XLRs, Dubai, Abu Dhabi maybe Riyadh and Kuwait. They're flying to Doha on A330, maybe they could free up some A330s and reinstate other destinations, they're actually resuming Tokyo soon.

      I don't think they'll venture into South America with this aircraft, maybe northern Brazil which is a safe bet given Latam will deploy XLRs from northern Brazil to Portugal.

      Iberia's network in the Carribean and Latin America...

      Middle East would work well for Iberia with A321XLRs, Dubai, Abu Dhabi maybe Riyadh and Kuwait. They're flying to Doha on A330, maybe they could free up some A330s and reinstate other destinations, they're actually resuming Tokyo soon.

      I don't think they'll venture into South America with this aircraft, maybe northern Brazil which is a safe bet given Latam will deploy XLRs from northern Brazil to Portugal.

      Iberia's network in the Carribean and Latin America is so wide they can easily fill widebodies year round. This will be interesting because these XLRs coming online will free up some A330s that they could use on most profitable and interesting long haul routes.

      I could see XLRs going to US west coast mostly, and some african destinations as well if Brazil doesn't work. Canada would be an insteresting addition to Iberia's network but Air Canada flies widebodies year round. Would Seattle work for this type of aircraft?

    2. Ben Holz Guest

      I don't think that IB would perform particularly well in the Middle East, given that there's already a fair amount of capacity, specially so during the summer season to the more desired summer destinations (i.e. AGP and BCN-- MAD is not the best place to spend you summer :) ). The only reason IB fly an A330 to DOH is because QR is trying to free up some aircraft and offered incentives to other OW...

      I don't think that IB would perform particularly well in the Middle East, given that there's already a fair amount of capacity, specially so during the summer season to the more desired summer destinations (i.e. AGP and BCN-- MAD is not the best place to spend you summer :) ). The only reason IB fly an A330 to DOH is because QR is trying to free up some aircraft and offered incentives to other OW members to fly to DOH (just like AA and JL did ex-PHL and HND respectively).

      I think it's highly likely that IB deploys some of these in northern Brazil, maybe even MDE (really pushing the range) and make some thinner seasonal routes work year-round (e.g. IAD). I also think that YUL, YYZ, PHL or SSG could be good shouts... but FWIW, I don't think the plane could make it past Texas on a relatively high load, let alone the west coast. Also, while IB is a major player in the EU-LatAm market, there are definitely some destinations that could use the A321XLR, where IB could move from x weekly A330s to daily A321s... but then again, the major restriction here is probably the range.

  13. DKB Guest

    The other thing here Ben is that there's a big dispute here in Ireland about the airport's Pax cap at 30m. If it stands, there's no room for growth, and not much need for extra planes.

    It's currently enforced by the local county council, and widely regarded that it's too important a function for them to have. They're reviewing it at the minute, and the hope is it will be changed to 40m pax/annum.

    1. simmonad Guest

      The constraint is on passenger volume? Idgave thought that aircraft movements were a more sensible constraint.

  14. Nawaid Ladak Guest

    really curious to see what the interiors on these look like.

    Also, IAD-MAD going year-round is awesome.

    1. StevieMIA Guest

      Don't expect AA levels of innovation and elegance on their cabins, not even JetBlue levels of tackiness, they will probably put 16 business seats in boring cream or grey and call it a day. Iberia's aesthetics are mediocre at best, I can't believe they are not even on BA's level when it comes to cabin design.

  15. JB Guest

    I'd love to see Iberia launch flights to Orlando with its A321 XLRs.

    If Iberia is taking delivery of these aircraft and placing them on existing A330 routes, where will the A330s coming off of BOS and IAD be deployed to? Or will they be retired?

    1. Throwawayname Guest

      They might help fine-tuning capacity by freeing up A350s; e.g. currently MEX has 3 daily rotations on the A350, it could go down to 2+1 or 1+2 with the bigger plane(s) moving to a route with one daily flight.

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IrishAlan Diamond

EI already flies to both BDL and CLE due to subsidies. There are rumors that RDU is on EI’s radar. I don’t see any reason why IB wouldn’t try some of these airports. I actually think CLT is the least likely for IB since AA already flies to MAD and they hate partner competition at CLT. They’re currently the only OneWorld carrier at CLT having chased BA away after the US Airways merger.

2
JC Edwards Guest

If the A320 family (and the 737 variants) have become the power horses of domestic and intracontinental routes, like the 727, 737 and DC9 were in the 1960-1990s, I wonder if the A321 is poised to become the contemporary 707 and DC8 series. Long live narrowbodies!

2
DKB Guest

The other thing here Ben is that there's a big dispute here in Ireland about the airport's Pax cap at 30m. If it stands, there's no room for growth, and not much need for extra planes. It's currently enforced by the local county council, and widely regarded that it's too important a function for them to have. They're reviewing it at the minute, and the hope is it will be changed to 40m pax/annum.

1
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