In a big blow to Boeing, Qantas is replacing its aging Boeing 737 jets with the much-vaunted Airbus A321XLR as the new backbone of the airline’s domestic and short-haul international fleet. On shorter regional routes, the nimble Airbus A220 (formerly Bombardier C-Series) will take over the reins from the Boeing 717.
Apart from the team at Airbus, passengers will also have reason to celebrate. The Airbus A321XLR (extra-long range) is arguably one of the most comfortable single-aisle jets in production. Its cabin is more spacious due to a slightly wider fuselage and sculpted sidewalls. The luggage bins have also been redesigned to fit more, including larger cabin bags.
And of course, what’s not to love about the stunning Airspace interior? Customisable mood lighting and wider windows come standard across the range of new Airbus jets.
The Qantas Group expects to place a firm order of 20 A321XLRs and 20 A220s by June 2022, with the flexibility to purchase a further 94 jets over 10 years. Jetstar also has an existing order with over 100 aircraft in the Airbus A320neo family. Combined, the Qantas Group will be able to access 299 new deliveries from Airbus – the largest order ever in Australian aviation history!
A new cabin in the works
The Airbus A321XLR boasts room for up to 15% more passengers per flight compared to the Boeing 737-800. Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, has tipped that ‘exciting plans’ for next-generation cabins will be revealed in the coming months. We’ll certainly see a new and improved Business Class.
The question is should Qantas go for a reclining seat, go all-out with lie-flat suites, or a mix of both? Cathay Pacific recently revealed its new Business Class seats onboard the Airbus A321neo. These recliners are certainly more spacious and advanced compared to the current-gen Qantas Boeing 737 Business Class seats.
On the other hand, Qantas might also consider a fully lie-flat seat for a subset of its fleet, dedicated to Perth transcontinental and short-haul international flights. Overnight jaunts from Bali would definitely be more bearable with the ability to sleep flat!
Singapore Airlines is one of the latest airlines to fit a fully-flat suite onto a single-aisle jet. The airline’s Boeing 737 MAX aircraft have 10 such berths, including two ‘throne seats’ in the second row.
As for Economy, we’ll still expect to see a standard 3-3 layout on the Airbus A320neo family, and 2-3 on the narrower Airbus A220. We don’t think there will be much difference in the seat design compared to now. But hopefully, the new jets will come outfitted with the latest in-seat entertainment systems, more storage space, and in-seat power.
The battle between Airbus and Boeing (and to some extent, Embraer) for the prestige of handling Qantas’ fleet renewal has certainly been intense. One of the main barriers with Airbus is the cost needed to retrain Boeing 737 pilots over to the Airbus A320neo. But once Qantas finishes the retraining, it makes sense to stick with Airbus.
Qantas flies the Airbus A380, Airbus A330 and – with Jetstar – the current-gen Airbus A320. The airline is also picking the Airbus A350-1000 for long-range ‘Project Sunrise’ flights. By moving its domestic workhorse over to the Airbus A320neo and Airbus A220, Qantas is future-proofing its network by keeping things mostly Airbus.
Of course, the outlier is the Red Roo’s trusty Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which have been very important in the restart of international flying. We don’t see any reason why Qantas will replace the Boeing 787s anytime soon, so the US manufacturer will likely still have a relationship with Qantas.
And as Alan Joyce remarked in a media conference earlier today, Boeing could certainly come back with a sharper offer the next time Qantas is replacing a tranche of jets. In the aviation world, it’s always ‘game on.’