PARIS (Reuters) – Airbus <AIR.PA> is talking to airlines about a longer-range version of its best-selling narrowbody jet family with a view to launching it by mid-2019 as it tries to head off a potential Boeing competitor, people familiar with the matter said.
Pre-marketing of the so-called A321XLR version comes as Boeing <BA.N> ponders whether to launch an all-new aircraft to serve mid-market demand worth hundreds of billions of dollars, with a final decision on both aircraft expected in 2019.
Airbus has stepped up a gear and is actively “testing the market” for a newly defined XLR, one industry source said.
Initial plans for the new A321XLR were first reported by Reuters in June. It would sit at the top of a narrowbody range driving most Airbus profits.
The upgrade would boost the A321’s take-off weight to some 101 tonnes for the A321XLR compared with 97 tonnes for the longest-range A321LR, which can carry 206 people 4,000 miles.
It would rely on more powerful engines already offered as an option, giving 33,000 pounds of thrust instead of 30,000 pounds.
An Airbus spokesman said the A321 “still has lots of potential” and declined further comment on product strategy.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)