Speaking at the Future Flying webinar exclusively at Simple Flying, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has officially ruled out the Airbus A321XLR for the airline. While the airline remains a customer for the Airbus A321LR, it envisions only a small fleet of those aircraft for specific needs.
No Airbus A321XLRs for Qatar Airways
Speaking at the webinar, Mr. Al Baker succinctly ruled out the Airbus A321XLR for Qatar Airways:
“No we are not interested in [the A321XLR]. I don’t want to put my passengers in a narrowbody aeroplane traveling nine and ten hours.”
The Airbus A321XLR was launched in 2019 at the Paris Air Show. Customers responded with hundreds of orders for the aircraft, and more streamed in through the rest of the year. While Airbus lost out on sales in 2020 due to the crisis, the A321XLR is still positioned to capture a woefully underserved market in the industry.
However, the aircraft is clearly not a fit for a lot of airlines. Qatar Airways is one of those carriers. With a significant long-haul network, including to smaller points in Africa, Europe, and Southwest Asia, it may seem strange that the airline is not looking to fly the Airbus A321XLR.
Network and passenger comfort
Reinforced in today’s webinar was Mr. Al Baker’s belief in focusing on the passenger’s comfort when flying. While narrowbody travel may not be as bad as some expect, Qatar Airways clearly feels its customers will not appreciate the jet as much.
Beyond that, another consideration for Qatar Airways is its network. Carriers like American Airlines, United Airlines, Qantas, Wizz Air, JetBlue, and IAG have ordered the jets. In the case of airlines like Wizz Air and JetBlue, the Airbus A321XLR is the perfect aircraft to minimize fleet inefficiencies, as the two mainly operate Airbus narrowbody aircraft.
Airlines like American, United, Qantas, and carriers within the IAG portfolio all operate a multi-hub route network where passengers have more options of airports to connect in and where not every point that an airline serves allows for an easy, one-stop connection. This makes the A321XLR attractive for serving a single point from multiple hubs with one aircraft type or allowing a second or third route from a city to another hub on a smaller jet.
Qatar Airways only has one hub: Doha Hamad International Airport (DOH). This means all of its customers connect in one place when flying on Qatar Airways. As a result, with more connecting opportunities, Qatar Airways can fly larger jets to smaller points and rely heavily on connecting feed.
The Airbus A321LRs will still come
Mr. Al Baker described the role that he views the Airbus A321LRs taking at Qatar Airways:
“We are going to take all the 50 A321s that are on order. The LR is being taken by us so that, when there is a downturn – our network is very seasonal in one direction or the other – so it is a perfect aeroplane, the LR, for us to use when the trend is offseason, so that we don’t go with big aeroplanes, with maybe 60% load factor, because the A321 gives us the optimum volume that we need to operate offseason into intercontinental routes.”
The Airbus A321LR is an excellent aircraft for off-season travel on long-haul routes. It can push Qatar Airways to use the aircraft to operate more seasonal, niche destinations during the peak travel seasons.
Qatar Airways is only taking 10 Airbus A321LR aircraft. This is a minimal number, and it represents Qatar Airways’ plan to stick mainly to widebodies for long-haul travel. Nevertheless, Qatar Airways needs to target some part of the market with smaller jets in the off-season, and the Airbus A321LR will help do that.
Do you think Qatar Airways is making the right choice in staying away from the Airbus A321XLR? Let us know in the comments!