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Airbus plans range-boosting jet before Boeing, Air Transat says

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Airbus SE could build a longer-range version of its newest narrow-body jet by 2023, according to prospective buyer Air Transat, beating a competing Boeing Co. model to the market.

 

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The Canadian carrier’s President Jean-Marc Eustache has been briefed by Airbus on its thinking regarding service entry for the proposed aircraft, as well as by leasing firm AerCap Holdings NV, the biggest supplier to its fleet, he said in an interview in London.

A development of the existing A321neo known as the XLR for extra long range, the Airbus plane is under consideration as Boeing mulls a launch decision for a family of mid-range jets with the working title New Mid-Market Aircraft, or NMA. That model is a wholly new design and wouldn’t reach operators until about 2025, Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said on a July earnings call.

“We’re a natural buyer for the XLR,” Eustache said Thursday, adding that the current LR – or long-range version – of the A321neo that will join its fleet from next year has the capability to reach Britain, France, Spain and Portugal from Canada, but won’t be able to serve European locations further east.

Airbus hasn’t yet indicated a service-entry date for a new plane. Asked about the 2023 timing, a company spokesman said that “it’s no secret the A321 still has lots of potential.”

The Canadian executive also gave some insight into the likely range of the new aircraft, saying it would easily be able to reach destinations such as Split in Croatia, which Air Transat plans to start serving in 2019. The route will initially be served by the carrier’s fleet of Airbus A330 wide-body planes because it’s beyond the reach of the A321neoLR, he said.

The A321neo is already nibbling away at the bottom end of the 220-to-270-seat market Boeing is targeting for the NMA – also dubbed the 797 – with the LR variant racking up orders from carriers like Air Transat that see it as the best prospect to replace the US firm’s out-of-production 757 and the 767 on some trans-Atlantic routes. (Bloomberg)

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