MIAMI — Airbus will extend the maximum seating capacity on its A321neo product to 240 from the previous 220. The announcement was made at the European aerospace firm’s media days in mid-June. The company will accomplish the feat with a combination of design changes and re-arranged floor space.
If the thought of even more people crammed into an already cramped airplane sounds unpleasant, fear not, at least says Airbus. The design still stays true to its 18 inch wide mantra.
Unfortunately though, it accounts for only a 28 inch pitch with slimline seats, putting the plane on par with the pitch provided on the dreaded American ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit. Needless to say the configuration will be limited to an all-economy layout.
How will it squeeze in what amounts to just over three more rows? First, the second set of doors, located just fore of the wings, will disappear. They be replaced by two over-wing exits, making it look more akin to a reversed Boeing 757. Second, the rear galley will be made smaller to accommodate the addition of the lavatories to the same space. Previously the WCs had been located prior to the aft galley.
The company says the increased capacity will deliver a six percent reduction in seat-mile costs. That no doubt will make the airplane quite popular with budget / low-cost carriers. Additionally, it extends the capacity to roughly match that of an all coach Boeing 757-200, making it an increasingly viable replacement option.
While Airbus acknowledged that the option could have been implemented earlier, it says the market to support higher capacity aircraft is stronger now than it has been in the past. “Could we have done it earlier? Yes, but we are in the right moment [now],” said the Senior VP of the neo program, Klaus Roewe.
Airbus stressed that the higher capacity option is only one of several that will be available. A premium configuration, seating around 165, would enable a carrier to opt out of the two over-wing exits. The standard offering, certified for the present max of 220 passengers, will still see the erasure of the L/R2 doors in exchange for a single over-wing exit.
Many of the changes are not exactly new, however. The company had announced a higher density option for the A321neo back in January 2013 that would have expanded by 16 seats to 236. Rather than the current design, which axes the L/R2 doors, it would only have deactivated them while adding over-wing exits.
A321neos account for 45% of the neo family order book, says Airbus. The smaller A320neo accounts for the vast majority of the remaining 55%.