It is looking like Boeing 737 Max is in a lot of trouble. More than a dozen airlines / countries have grounded it.
The closest competitor to 737Max is Airbus A321LR. Till date, no commercial flight has taken off. Of course, there has been noise and lots of it. And rightly so.
A321LR – The Game Changer
A321LR has the potential to revolutionize long-distance travel. This has largely been the hegemony of full-service carriers. Being a close cousin of the ubiquitous A320, A321LR would enable LCCs to operate trans-continental flight without significant alteration to their existing fleet.
The aircraft holds special significance for low-cost / single-fleet operators in the Middle East (cue: It is in the name). The middle of the earth as we know it, could certainly use a bunch of these. There is a lot that can be covered in 8 hours
Casablanca to New York – 8 hours 5 min
Dubai to Kuala Lumpur – 7 hours 5 min
Jeddah to London – 6 hours 55 min
Muscat to Moscow – 6 hours 5 min
Dubai to Seoul – 8 hours 20 min
I can go on but I am sure you understand by now.
Will Air Arabia be the First to Launch?
Primera Air was the launch customer for A321 LR. We know how that story ended (link). Arkia was the first to receive these shiny toys, yet the launch seems unclear. Indigo – the Indian LCC giant – has been contemplating direct flights from India to London for a year now. However, nothing concrete has happened. You also had Aer Lingus, Hawaiian, Qatar Airways in the mix.
However, it seems the the honor might go to AirArabia.
Air Arabia is an LCC based out of Sharjah in UAE. Air Arabia operates from four main hubs – Sharjah, UAE, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, Casablanca, Morocco and Alexandria, Egypt. As I had explained before, Sharjah airport is in close proximity to Dubai (DXB) airport. You can read more about it in my first ever post (link).
Currently, AirArabia has a fleet of 53 Airbus A320s and flies to 120 destinations.
If it sounds boring, it is because I am only building it up.
In November 2017, AirArabia signed an agreement for 6 A321LR with Air Lease Corporation (press release). Air Lease is one of the very few who have taken delivery of the aircraft till today.
And in October 2018, AirArabia posted a sneak-peak of its crew getting trained in A321LR.
Finally, on March 5, 2019, AirArabia announced a direct service from Sharjah to Kuala Lumpur starting July 1, 2019. This flight is a shade over 7 hours and I do not think its existing fleet can cover the distance.
The jigsaw finally seems complete.
Is it Real?
The flight to Kuala Lumpur is confirmed. AirArabia is accepting booking for it (link). The fares start from AED 920 ($250). This seems to be a one-class configuration. Although the “Extra” fares allow you to select seats in the first 8 rows.
AirArabia has not confirmed anything regarding the aircraft configuration. They did not respond to my message sent earlier today.