Qantas Ordering Airbus A321XLR & A220-300

Qantas Ordering Airbus A321XLR & A220-300

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Qantas has announced its narrow body fleet renewal plan. It’s bad news for Boeing, and good news for Airbus (and passengers, for that matter).

Qantas buying Airbus aircraft to renew domestic fleet

Qantas will exclusively be using Airbus for its narrow body fleet going forward, with the Australian carrier selecting the A320neo and Airbus A220 families as preferred aircraft types. An in-principle agreement has been signed up for up to 134 orders and purchase rights over 10 years, with deliveries to start in FY2024. The order is expected to be finalized in FY2022.

What does this order include?

  • Qantas has made a firm commitment for 20 Airbus A321XLRs, which is the longest range and largest version of the Airbus A320 family
  • Qantas has made a firm commitment for 20 Airbus A220-300, which is the largest version of the Airbus A220 family
  • There will be purchase rights for a further 94 aircraft over a 10 year delivery window, which could include other A320neo family aircraft, plus the smaller A220-100
  • This order is in addition to Jetstar’s existing agreement with Airbus for over 100 aircraft in the A320neo family

These Airbus planes are expected to replace Qantas’ existing narrow body fleet, which includes 75 Boeing 737-800s, plus 20 Boeing 717 operated by QantasLink. It’s stated that once finalized, this will be the largest aircraft order in Australian aviation history.

Qantas is ordering Airbus A220-300s

What surprises me about Qantas’ aircraft order

I’m thrilled to see Qantas’ aircraft order. Not only are both of these planes incredibly fuel efficient, but they also offer a fantastic passenger experience, which beats what you’ll find on Boeing 737 family aircraft.

Broadly this order makes a lot of sense — A320neo family aircraft can be used for busy routes (like between Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane), while A220 family aircraft can be used for most other routes. Furthermore, by having two plane types with significantly different capacity, the airline can better match capacity and demand.

The one thing that surprises me is that Qantas’ only firm A320neo family order is for the A321XLR. I get why Qantas is ordering from the A321neo family, since it offers the capacity the airline needs. But the airline is going for the extra long range version of the plane, which is capable of operating flights to Asia that the 737 couldn’t.

The way I view it:

  • The A321XLR is more expensive than other versions of the plane, so typically airlines only order these planes if they specifically have the intention of using them for long haul routes
  • Qantas states that these planes will primarily be used between major Australian cities (including between Sydney and Melbourne, etc.), and it’s also stated that the plane’s longer range “can also be used to open up new city pairs”
  • Will Qantas configure all A321XLRs for long haul operations, with TVs at every seat, flat beds in business class, etc.?

I’m not claiming this is a bad decision, but rather am just stating that it’s surprising. We’ve seen a lot of airlines order A321XLRs, but Qantas is the first airline to specifically say that these planes are largely being acquired to operate hour-long flights between major markets.

I suppose it’s also possible that Qantas plans for some of the options to include A321neos, and the airline just thinks the A321XLR delivery slots are hardest to get, so those are being locked in first. However, there’s no reference in the press release to long haul service, other than a brief mention that the planes “could be used during off peak times between major cities.”

Qantas is ordering Airbus A321XLRs

Bottom line

Qantas has signed an agreement with Airbus for its narrow body fleet renewal, including ordering a minimum of 20 A321XLRs and 20 A220-300s. These will primarily replace the carrier’s Boeing 737s, which have long been the backbone of Qantas’ short haul fleet.

From a passenger experience standpoint, Airbus narrow body aircraft are simply better than Boeing narrow body aircraft, so that’s another reason this is good news.

The only part of this order that surprises me is that the only firm A320neo family aircraft order is for the A321XLR, which offers a lot more range than Qantas seems to need. If these planes are all configured for long haul service but then used primarily for short haul service, that would be great for passengers. But I also don’t think that’s likely to be the case.

What do you make of Qantas’ planned aircraft order with Airbus?

Conversations (25)
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  1. Lachlan Guest

    I have a feeling Qantas didn't specify the other 94 planes because are hedging their bets on an A220-500. If Airbus give that plane the go ahead, Qantas will be all over it like a flock of seagulls on a dropped bag of hot chips at Bondi.

  2. Matt Rudolph Guest

    I think that Qantas has chosen the 321xlr for a few reasons.
    1. To match Virgins capacity with the Max
    2. To fly multiple legs within Australia without Re fuelling. Faster turnarounds on the ground
    3. To have a flexible domestic international option.
    I think based on those reasons it's a smart move.

  3. Bill Guest

    Maybe they intend to do multi city flights like SYD-MEL-TOKYO. Or MEL-SYD-Fiji?

  4. Alex Guest

    Going with the XLR means that during the day the planes can fly the triangle routes and during peak hour and be rotated on to red eyes to Denpasar, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila etc and then be back in time in the morning for the peak rush.

    Also would allow for a transcon flight to land, go to somewhere in Asia and back for the morning.

  5. Pete Guest

    The 321s will work for long thin routes to the Asia/Pacific region if Qantas stops insulting their business-class passengers with 38” pitch recliner seats. We used to travel to Bali every year in the Before Times, and always flew Garuda because the biz product offered by Qantas and Virgin on their 737s was ok for the day-flight up to Denpasar, but horrible on the red-eye back to Australia. Qantas did start operating 330s just before...

    The 321s will work for long thin routes to the Asia/Pacific region if Qantas stops insulting their business-class passengers with 38” pitch recliner seats. We used to travel to Bali every year in the Before Times, and always flew Garuda because the biz product offered by Qantas and Virgin on their 737s was ok for the day-flight up to Denpasar, but horrible on the red-eye back to Australia. Qantas did start operating 330s just before the pandemic, but only out of SYD (surprise, surprise), and it wasn’t an incentive for those of us who don’t live in Sydney to connect, when Garuda were offering nine non-stop, A330 flights with proper flat beds in each direction every week.

  6. Aman Guest

    Given Australia’s remote geography, I would think the XLR is a perfect fit for Qantas to offer non-stop services from major Australian cities to destinations in Asia that cannot sustain long haul flights.
    Competing with low cost carriers with its higher cost base, Qantas has had to develop a premium business model- which has made it hard to serve markets such as KL, Bangkok, Manila and even Southern Indian cities like Chennai and Bangalore...

    Given Australia’s remote geography, I would think the XLR is a perfect fit for Qantas to offer non-stop services from major Australian cities to destinations in Asia that cannot sustain long haul flights.
    Competing with low cost carriers with its higher cost base, Qantas has had to develop a premium business model- which has made it hard to serve markets such as KL, Bangkok, Manila and even Southern Indian cities like Chennai and Bangalore with widebody aircraft’s.
    I could even see them serving destinations existing destinations such as HK and SG from cities like Adelaide, Perth and Cairns with the XLR.

  7. UA Guest

    Qantas will be putting plenty of pilots through retraining here.

    Although Airbus have attempted to minimise training requirements for pilots transitioning between Airbus aircraft, the majority of pilots are certified to fly the 737.

    Jetstar does operate the A320, however those pilots are on a completely different payscale. Virgin Australia pilots are also by-and-large trained to fly 737 aircraft.

    The cost of training would have been a factor for Qantas - the value proposition...

    Qantas will be putting plenty of pilots through retraining here.

    Although Airbus have attempted to minimise training requirements for pilots transitioning between Airbus aircraft, the majority of pilots are certified to fly the 737.

    Jetstar does operate the A320, however those pilots are on a completely different payscale. Virgin Australia pilots are also by-and-large trained to fly 737 aircraft.

    The cost of training would have been a factor for Qantas - the value proposition here from Airbus was seemingly very attractive!

  8. Steven E Guest

    Yes that order is made specifically for near Asia and of course to re- new the now ageing 737 fleet- no more going down on your knees to arm those doors !!!

  9. James C Guest

    I have flew Qantas 737 between NZ and Australia, and other than having PTV on every seat it was less comfortable in every other way compared to their low cost alternative Jetstar's A320.

    Missed the days when Emirates had 3x daily 5th freedom A380 flights between Auckland and the 3 major cities in Eastern Australia.

    PS. The A321XLR will open up lots of opportunities between Australia and South East Asia and Japan. The premium cabin...

    I have flew Qantas 737 between NZ and Australia, and other than having PTV on every seat it was less comfortable in every other way compared to their low cost alternative Jetstar's A320.

    Missed the days when Emirates had 3x daily 5th freedom A380 flights between Auckland and the 3 major cities in Eastern Australia.

    PS. The A321XLR will open up lots of opportunities between Australia and South East Asia and Japan. The premium cabin might sucks a bit but for the majority of passengers sitting at the back of the plane it might even be an improvement over their 787, at least the seats and shoulder space is wider.

  10. Hank Tarn Guest

    I am Upset by how little you are supporting American Industry and Jobs lucky.

    This is not a good thing in any way, plus the French hate the Australians for buying superior American submarines, so while they order machines from the French again here, they may soon change their mind.

    1. SQ51 Guest

      I am sorry, but you cannot be upset at the writer for expressing HIS opinion on the jets on HIS blog

    2. Michael Johnson Guest

      It is a good thing for the travelers who get to fly on more comfortable planes. It's a good thing for the airline who can use their new planes on more routes. Perhaps you should be upset at Boeing and the polished turd they're offering in this competition. They look like the American auto makers circa 1980: offering poor-quality, obsolete products, and standing on nothing but their own institutional arrogance.

    3. Pete Guest

      Airbus aircraft are assembled in France from components manufactured in may different nations, just like Boeing aircraft are assembled in the United States from components made in different nations.

      Ben is allowed to hold and express his own opinion, without feeling like he has to blindly nationalistic about it.

    4. Kiwi Guest

      Let’s not forget the Airbus Alabama assembly line for A320 and A220

    5. Quo Vadis Guest

      The Australian government's decision to switch to a U.S./British nuclear submarine design over the previous French design has nothing to do with Qantas' decision to purchase the newer and better (more fuel efficient and more comfortable) Airbus aircraft.

      Rather than be upset with Lucky, you should be upset at Boeing's senior management, which decided to squeeze out maximum profits from the dated 737 design instead of investing in a clean-sheet, single-aisle aircraft. Boeing offers only...

      The Australian government's decision to switch to a U.S./British nuclear submarine design over the previous French design has nothing to do with Qantas' decision to purchase the newer and better (more fuel efficient and more comfortable) Airbus aircraft.

      Rather than be upset with Lucky, you should be upset at Boeing's senior management, which decided to squeeze out maximum profits from the dated 737 design instead of investing in a clean-sheet, single-aisle aircraft. Boeing offers only the tarnished and dated 737 MAX single-aisle aircraft versus Airbus' newer A320neo and A220 aircraft. Boeing is clearly playing from behind now. Furthermore, Boeing is having production/delivery troubles with multiple aircraft programs: the 737 MAX, the 787, the 777-X, and the KC-46 (military tanker). One wonders if Boeing knows how to do anything right anymore.

  11. James Harper Guest

    Of course it could be that the A21NXLRs may go to Jetstar and some Jetstar A21Ns move to Qantas for the trunk routes.

    In any event, this is a great development for Qantas, Airbus and Australia.

  12. Aney Guest

    The glory days of Boeing are over unless there’s a complete 90 degree turn in management culture. McKinsey hollowed American institutions…

    1. shoeguy Guest

      McKinsey is a bloated, overrated institution that indeed erodes companies instead of unlocking value. Boeing was done in by greed, hubris, and too cozy a relationship with the US government. It will take years for Boeing to recover, but it will, and hopefully, its workers will learn to do their jobs properly and not cut corners.

  13. Cb Guest

    Going with the 737max over developing a new 797 is an all time blunder

  14. Morgan Gold

    Exciting news as a Qantas flyer in Australia!

  15. shoeguy Guest

    QF are smart to order Airbus and even smarter for including 321XLRs in the mix. It will allow them to fly thin routes into Asia and other South Pacific destinations where the A330s are too much plane or only work at certain times of the year. The 320/220s are a great replacement for the 737, with wider cabins, better passenger service experience, and more flexibility across the fleet for domestic flights. The 737 MAX is a piece of junk.

  16. Ray Guest

    4,700nm (A321 XLR’s range) from SYD can take you to:
    1. Japan
    2. China
    3. Pacific Islands

    From PER, that distance could cover India. I think they’re not only going after flexibility, but also range options to the above markers while keeping operating economics sensible. We could, I think, see the likes of DEL-PER and BOM-PER where Perth will grow to become a bigger hub.

    And from SYD/MEL, maybe flights to Pacific...

    4,700nm (A321 XLR’s range) from SYD can take you to:
    1. Japan
    2. China
    3. Pacific Islands

    From PER, that distance could cover India. I think they’re not only going after flexibility, but also range options to the above markers while keeping operating economics sensible. We could, I think, see the likes of DEL-PER and BOM-PER where Perth will grow to become a bigger hub.

    And from SYD/MEL, maybe flights to Pacific island nations, tier 2 Chinese cities, and perhaps even KUL. Maybe even CGK/DPS from MEL

    1. Morgan Gold

      Interesting, I hope that is the case

    2. Ed Guest

      Could also allow SYD-KIX to be permanent and daily, add FUK. Also so southeast Asian tourist destinations like Phuket and langkawi.

      Maybe even Melbourne gets some love and gets flights or places like KL, Jakarta and Saigon.

      More generally though the XLR is such a great tool for airbus to have. Boeing has nothing to touch it, so if an airline wants those capabilities and a unibodies narrowbody fleet, everything has to be...

      Could also allow SYD-KIX to be permanent and daily, add FUK. Also so southeast Asian tourist destinations like Phuket and langkawi.

      Maybe even Melbourne gets some love and gets flights or places like KL, Jakarta and Saigon.

      More generally though the XLR is such a great tool for airbus to have. Boeing has nothing to touch it, so if an airline wants those capabilities and a unibodies narrowbody fleet, everything has to be airbus. What with jetstar already having a320s it feels like it wasn’t much of a contest.

      Can’t wait for it, the QF 737-800 I was on the other day was looking pretty tired.

    3. Ed Guest

      Also Western Sydney Airport will open in the life of these planes, No announced plans, but could see A320XLRs going there and working on VFR and holiday destinations in Asia for Jetstar.

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shoeguy Guest

QF are smart to order Airbus and even smarter for including 321XLRs in the mix. It will allow them to fly thin routes into Asia and other South Pacific destinations where the A330s are too much plane or only work at certain times of the year. The 320/220s are a great replacement for the 737, with wider cabins, better passenger service experience, and more flexibility across the fleet for domestic flights. The 737 MAX is a piece of junk.

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Ray Guest

4,700nm (A321 XLR’s range) from SYD can take you to: 1. Japan 2. China 3. Pacific Islands From PER, that distance could cover India. I think they’re not only going after flexibility, but also range options to the above markers while keeping operating economics sensible. We could, I think, see the likes of DEL-PER and BOM-PER where Perth will grow to become a bigger hub. And from SYD/MEL, maybe flights to Pacific island nations, tier 2 Chinese cities, and perhaps even KUL. Maybe even CGK/DPS from MEL

3
Ed Guest

Could also allow SYD-KIX to be permanent and daily, add FUK. Also so southeast Asian tourist destinations like Phuket and langkawi. Maybe even Melbourne gets some love and gets flights or places like KL, Jakarta and Saigon. More generally though the XLR is such a great tool for airbus to have. Boeing has nothing to touch it, so if an airline wants those capabilities and a unibodies narrowbody fleet, everything has to be airbus. What with jetstar already having a320s it feels like it wasn’t much of a contest. Can’t wait for it, the QF 737-800 I was on the other day was looking pretty tired.

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