Irish carrier Aer Lingus has agreed a long-term lease agreement with Air Lease Corporation to introduce seven new Airbus A321neoLR aircraft into its fleet from 2019. The long-expected commitment to the long-range variant of the new Airbus family will enable it to replace existing third party Boeing 757-200 flying as well as to expand its network into routes that can’t necessarily be served sustainably with its larger capacity A330 widebodies.
The confirmation of the deal follows extensive discussions between the management of Aer Lingus and its parent company International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) over the growth of the Dublin-based carrier’s long-haul network and the value IAG places in Ireland’s growing hub at Dublin Airport, one of fastest growing transatlantic departure markets of the current decade.
Aer Lingus issued a formal request for proposals for seven A321neoLRs in November 2016. It will receive the aircraft from the second quarter of 2019 with three deliveries scheduled for that year and the remaining four deliveries in 2020.
ALC were the first customer to sign-up to the long-range (LR) version of the A321neo, which Airbus says will be able to fly around 206 passengers in a two-class layout on routes of up to 4,000 nautical miles. The Los Angeles-based lessor has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for 30 more A321neo aircraft in january 2015, upsizing its commitments at the 2014 Farnborough Airshow from 60 to 90 and becoming the launch customer for Airbus’ increased range option.
The lessor believes the aircraft will be an ideal fit into the Aer Lingus fleet. “The A321neo LR will be the perfect aircraft for Aer Lingus to provide its excellent service and allow it to expand into new markets while remaining a very profitable and successful airline,” said Grant Levy, executive vice president of Air Lease Corporation.
The new aircraft will allow Aer Lingus to replace the four 757-200s that are currently leased from ASL Airlines Ireland and used on its flights this summer from Dublin to Hartford and Washington and from Shannon to Boston and New York. The additional aircraft will provide growth opportunities to further expand its network with new routes and frequencies into Canada and the United States.
IAG chief executive officer, Willie Walsh, a former head of Aer Lingus, has spoken regularly in interviews about the compelling argument for the long-range A321 variant to become part of the Irish carrier’s fleet, particularly in the Transatlantic market.
Alongside standing alone on thinner routes, he has highlighted that the aircraft would work well to substitute an existing daily A330 operation with a twice daily A321neoLR offer which in the process will further strengthen the power of the Dublin hub. “It gives additional flexibility for people to connect from Dublin. That's particularly attractive," he has said.
The new 97 tonne MTOW option for the A321neo will have the longest range of any single aisle airliner at 4,000 nautical miles, making it ideally suited to transatlantic routes and will allow airlines to tap into new long-haul markets which were not previously accessible with current single aisle aircraft.
Airbus already offers four versions of the A321neo with MTOW of between 89 tonnes and 93.5 tonnes and a range of around 3,500 nautical miles. The enhanced performance of the LR is delivered through an additional fuel tank in the forward underfloor hold of the aircraft, as well as minor improvements on the wing and fuselage.
Like at Aer Lingus, the A321neoLR is being seen by airlines as a solution to the ‘Middle of the Market’ aircraft hole and a potential successor for the venerable Boeing 757-200 which has been used successfully by many airlines to serve long and thin routes. The type continues to see service on long-distance routes at all three of the US majors, while the likes of Icelandair have used its performance to enable is to establish its successful Transatlantic network linking Europe and North America via its Keflavik International Airport hub.
Major low-cost carriers such as JetBlue Airways and Norwegian Air have already been swayed by the economics of the A321neoLR to place orders for the aircraft, while the likes of Air Astana and Azores Airlines have committed to acquire the aircraft to support their own niche requirements. TAP Portugal is also viewed as a likely customer for the aircraft to serve markets between Portugal and Brazil.
It would also be no surprise if the commitment from Aer Lingus didn’t translate into orders for the type from other IAG members, with the aircraft certainly an option for use on long-haul flights to markets in North America and Africa from Ireland, Spain and the UK flying for the likes of British Airways, Iberia or Vueling.
"We think there's an opportunity to consider quite a number of destinations that we wouldn't consider possible," Walsh said earlier this year.