Why PLAY Doesn’t Want The Airbus A321LR Or XLR

The launch of Icelandic startup PLAY has, so far, been limited to Europe. But by this time next year, it should be beginning to branch out into the East Coast of North America. With the A321neos, it can comfortably make this trip, but could the long-range A321s open up more destinations? Its CEO, Birgir Jonsson, doesn’t think this is a good idea, saying that they are not part of the plan.

Play, Berlin Brandenburg Airport, First Flight
PLAY operated its first flight less than two weeks ago. Photo: Berlin Brandenburg Airport

Longer range narrowbodies are not in the plan

With PLAY’s build-out of its European network in full swing, passengers on both sides of the Atlantic will be eagerly awaiting the airline’s phase two of its launch. Just as its predecessor WOW Air did, PLAY intends to connect Europe and North America with one-stop flights via its hub in Iceland.

With the A321neo at its disposal, most of the US and Canada are within reach, although to be comfortably within its limitations, the East Coast would be the target. Should the airline move to the A321LR or even the forthcoming A321XLR in the future, all of North America would be comfortably within reach, as well as some parts of Central and South America.

But the CEO says he has no interest in either the LR or the XLR. Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying, Birgir Jonsson noted,

“Those don’t really fit into our plans because our plans do not dictate that we will do any kind of direct flights, let’s say from New York to London, or anything like that.”

Titan A321LR
The long-range narrowbodies hold no appeal for PLAY. Photo: Airbus

While the glamor of the long-range narrowbody has turned heads at airlines all over the world, Jonsson is clearly not swayed. He believes in having the right tool for the job, and with a strong focus on the East Coast and Western Europe, he doesn’t need a plane that goes any further than that.

While there would certainly be opportunities in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, Jonsson notes that this would impact utilization. Traveling the 4,000 plus miles to SFO from KEF, for example, would tick up the flight time to around eight hours. That would make it impossible for the same crew to fly out and back in a day, decreasing utilization of the aircraft and introducing the need for overnight accommodation.

“We just want to stick within a 24-hour loop, and the 320 family is perfect for that,” noted Jonsson.

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Adhering to the low-cost bible

While PLAY has kicked off with just one A321neo to start, two more will be added in the coming weeks. By this time next year, if all goes to plan, the fleet will have doubled to six A320 family aircraft, and flights to North America will be underway.

PLAY A321neo
By 2022, PLAY will have six A320neo family aircraft. Photo: PLAY

Looking ahead, Jonsson sees no advantage in adding any other aircraft types to his fleet. While the aircraft may also include the A320neo, for example, he wants to stick to the same aircraft family for the long term. He commented,

“We want to stay very close to the low cost Bible, so to speak, to have commonality in the fleet. And since we can now source the 320 family … that’s a perfect aircraft for us. You have all the training, you have all the maintenance, the parts, the handling agreement agreements and you have the commonality in the operation, which is so important.

“The smaller A220 is a very interesting plane, but that would break that concept. So, our plans dictate that we will have a mixture of A320 and 321s.”

While Mr Jonsson has some keen ambitions for PLAY going forward, he is also being realistic in the amount the airline can grow. Noting that WOW’s rapid growth was a contributor to its failure, he affirmed that PLAY will only grow when it is right to do so. Long term, the airline expects to only ever operate a fleet of 15 aircraft.


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