Airbus has a bona fide hit on its hands with the A320 family of planes. Since the first plane rolled off the assembly line in Toulouse, Airbus has pushed the boundaries with variants. That includes the A321LR, a plane Airbus says has the longest range of any current single-aisle jetliner.
That plane type went into service in late 2018. The launch airline was Arkia Israeli Airlines. Since then, the A321LR has arrived at several airlines. With three additional center tanks, the plane can fly further than the A320neo. Airbus says the A321LR is certified to fly around 7,500 kilometers loaded with 206 passengers.
More than two years after the A321LR first went into service, just how far have airlines pushed that plane? At Simple Flying, we’ve dug out some of the longest A321LR flights to date.
A handful of very impressive globe spanning A321LR flights
In 2018, Airbus made a splash when it flew the A321LR down to Mahé in the Seychelles islands from Toulouse. The 11-hour flight covered 8,797 kilometers, well beyond the plane’s stated capabilities. The flight was part of the test and certification process before deliveries commenced.
While the flight was impressive, it didn’t carry passengers. Rather, the plane carried 162 human heat-replicating dummy passengers and 16 crew members.
Last October, Air Transat flew the A321LR from Montreal to Athens. This eight-and-a-half-hour jaunt covered around 7,600 kilometers. Strong tailwinds aided the aircraft.
This flight was notable because it was a commercial flight. How full the plane was isn’t known, but many of these kilometer stretching flights aren’t regular commercial flights. Not being loaded with passengers and bags means planes can fly further.
Earlier this year, Azores Airlines sent the aircraft type across the Atlantic. In January, the airline operated an A321LR from Lisbon to Bogota. The flight took nearly ten hours.
Simple Flying’s Jay Singh calculated that’s a distance of around 7,800 kilometers. This isn’t a route Azores Airlines normally flies. Plus, in order to cover the distance, the plane would have been lightly loaded.
In late March 2021, another A321LR operator, TAP Air Portugal, flew a positioning flight from Maputo to Cape Verde. TAP Air Portugal told Simple Flying it was then the longest flight ever recorded by an Airbus A321LR, saying it covered around 7,200 kilometers.
Will long-haul narrowbody flights push human endurance limits
That Airbus test flight to Mahé remains the longest recorded A321LR flight to date, despite what TAP Air Portugal says. But the Air Transat flight is arguably the most impressive. Test flights and lightly loaded positioning flights are all well and good, but there’s nothing as authentic as a regular passenger flight.
In addition to passengers, you’ve got their baggage, you’ve got a planeload of food, drinks, and supplies. It all adds up to considerable weight, impacting the range of the plane. The Air Transat flight was a truer indicator of performance from a capability perspective than a passengerless test flight.
Next off the assembly line at Airbus is the A321XLR, which promises to fly even further. These record-breaking flights in these relatively small planes also raise another question – just how many hours is the average passenger prepared to spend in the air crowed onto a narrowbody plane? The human endurance limit may curb the capabilities of these planes more than any technical limitations.