Airbus agrees on design modifications for A321XLR with European regulators, leading to reduced aircraft range.

The planemaker considers offering deals on the larger A330neo to customers affected by the A321XLR's performance shortfall.

Design concerns related to fire risk and evacuation prompted the modifications, adding significant weight to the aircraft.

TOULOUSE — Airbus has encountered a hurdle with its soon-to-launch A321XLR jet, as European authorities have necessitated design alterations for its certification. Initially, the aircraft was designed with a unique rear central fuel tank, tailored to fit the aircraft’s curve. This innovation aimed to enhance the fuel capacity, aiming for a 15% range increase over the existing A321LR, long-range variant of the A320neo Family.

This design, while innovative, raised eyebrows among regulators due to concerns regarding potential fire risks and possible evacuation challenges in the event of an emergency. The necessary modifications, including the addition of a special protective liner in the fuel tank and other structural reinforcements, have had unintended weight consequences. While initial weight additions were projected to be between 200-300 kilos, current industry insights suggest a heftier 700 to 800 kilos. This considerable weight increase is expected to curtail the jet's maximum range, which was initially pegged at 4,700 nautical miles (8,700 km). Realistically, industry insiders suggest a reduction of around 200 nm (370 km), emphasizing its operational range, which is closer to 4,000 nm.

The implications of this adjustment might be particularly significant for airlines like JetBlue, based in New York. JetBlue, expected to be among the early adopters of the A321XLR, had plans to utilize the plane to explore new routes in Latin America and expand deeper into Europe. As of now, JetBlue has refrained from offering any comment regarding this development.

In response to these range challenges, Airbus has considered various solutions. One of the proposals involves offering customers alternatives like the larger A330neo, to address the performance deficit presented by the A321XLR. Despite these challenges, Airbus remains optimistic, as an official spokesperson emphasized minimal anticipated disruptions, stating the "distinct single-aisle segment range advantage" would largely remain unaffected.

With these developments in view, Airbus aims to obtain the required certification for the A321XLR by year's end and anticipates the debut of the first unit by the second quarter of 2024.