How useful is an Airbus A321XLR? Part 2

The economics of the A321XLR versus an A330-800 or 787-8

When comparing the economics of an aircraft like the A321XLR and the A330-800 or 787-8, one must be careful not to compare Apples with Oranges.

We will limit the comparison to the A330-800 as the 787-8 costs are typically within 3% of the A330-800. The variation between the types depends on the chosen route structure and the chosen engine for the 787. With the aircraft this close, we can take the A330-800 data to represent both.

For the A321XLR and A330-800 comparison, the routes must be realistic for the aircraft types. You don’t use a widebody for short routes; it’s too much aircraft and will have bad economics. We shall, therefore, look at the economics on typical long-range sectors, near the range limit of the A321XLR.

We choose Frankfurt to Washington (DC) for the comparison, as a representative route. The route is 3,550nm Great Circle. But we must follow airways and when flying the trans-Atlantic NATS structure, the route is 3,650nm. To this, we shall add 20-30 knots headwind this time of year, so still air distance will be around 3,900nm.

The rest of the range capability of the A321XLR we need for alternates which are further away than 200nm and for unforeseen weather changes. We also use more stringent reserve rules than Airbus does when claiming a 4,500nm range capability for the A321XLR.

We further have to be careful with the cabin configuration. The A321 is known as a 200 to 240 seater. But this is only when equipped with high-density cabins and these are not useable on up to 10-hour flights.

The A330-800 and 787-8 are known as 240 to 250 seaters. But this is with a typical long-range cabin, with lie-flat business seats.

Configured to the same long-range standard we set the A321XLR cabin to 16 Lie flat seats with 60-inch pitch complemented with 149 Economy seats with a 31-inch pitch. We have a total of 165 seats in a typical long-range configuration.

For the A330-800, we use the same seating standard and 10% ratio between Business and Economy seats. We then have 28 Lie flat seats with 60-inch pitch and 236 Economy seats at a 31-inch pitch for a total of 264 seats.

Fuel burn and Cash operating costs

The A330-800 will burn 40.6t fuel on the route, whereas the A321XLR takes 21.9t. With a present fuel price of $2.00/Gallon, the cost is $26,700 for the -800 and $14,400 for the XLR. Fuel cost per seat mile is $0.0225 for the -800 and $0.0195 for the XLR.

Cash Costs would be $64,670 for the -800 and $35,400 for the XLR. Divided per passenger and seat-mile, we have $0.0544 for the -800 and -$0.0478 for the XLR.

If we include the typical monthly leasing rates for the types of $700,000 for an A330-800 and $350,000 for an A321XLR, we end up with Direct Operating (DOC) seat mile costs of $0.0696 for the A330-800 and $0.0650 for the A321XLR.

We have assumed a 100% load factor in the example but the differences would be the same with, say, an 85% load factor. The costs would then increase by about 15% on a per passenger basis, with similar differences between the aircraft.


We said in last week’s article the operating costs between the smaller widebodies and the A321LR/XLR are similar on a per seat basis. This is proven by the above example.

The A321XLR has a slightly lower operating cost on a per-seat basis. The A330-800 is slightly more expensive to operate on this 3,900nm route. But this is 60% of its full capacity. Running an aircraft below its full capacity costs extra, so the difference is expected.

What the examples show are the new breed of long-range single-aisle aircraft like the A321XLR are really useful tools for an airline for its long-range network. It has a useful range, a capacity which can be filled on secondary routes and the same or better-operating costs as the larger widebodies.

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