Perfect fit: Why American’s new Airbus A321neo is the right plane at the right time


Captain Craig D.K. Jones noticed one of the remarkable things about the Airbus A321neo when he piloted it on its very first American Airlines flight, the Feb. 1 delivery trip from Hamburg, Germany (XFW) to Pittsburgh (PIT). “When we got to Pittsburgh we had enough fuel for three more hours,” he said.

With fuel efficiency that is 15 percent better than previous A321s, the neo is a fuel-sipper.

The first customers flew on American’s first A321neo from Phoenix (PHX) to Orlando, Florida (MCO) and back on April 2. For them, the neo offers a modern, connected experience with power at every seat, high-speed Wi-Fi and free wireless entertainment. It also has lots of premium seats, including 20 in first class and 47 in Main Cabin Extra.

The neo’s fuel efficiency pays off for customers and for American in ways that might be less obvious, but are just as important.

First flight

Read about customer day one and see what Janelle Anderson, Vice President of Global Marketing, had to say about the work that went into American’s A321neo cabin configuration in an April 2 news release.

Craig, who is the Fleet Captain for American’s Airbus A319, A320 and A321 family, said that on one proving run from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL), the neo burned 6,000 fewer pounds of fuel. Proving runs are flights before customer service begins where the airline demonstrates to the FAA that it can operate the aircraft and handle it on the ground.

Much of the fuel efficiency comes from the new, more efficient CFM LEAP-1A engines. The neo — which stands for new engine option — also gains fuel efficiency from an improved climb rate over the older A321 aircraft. The LEAP-1A engines enable the neo to reach higher, more fuel efficient altitudes much faster.

The lower fuel burn is more than just a cost savings for the airline. It means greater range of roughly 400 to 500 nautical miles compared to the current A321. Here’s why that matters:

  • The neo can be dispatched with less fuel compared to earlier A321s. That leaves more weight-carrying capacity for cargo and customers. This is a factor on routes such as PHX to Anchorage, Alaska (ANC), which the neo is scheduled to fly this summer, according to Dave Scott, Managing Director of Network Scheduling and Operations for American.
  • That also makes the neo perfect for routes such as PHX to Hawaii, which it will begin flying this fall as it replaces Boeing 757s on that route. Lower fuel costs are one reason the neo is 20 percent cheaper to operate than a 757 on a per-seat, per-mile basis, Dave said. American’s first 35 neos will be certified for operation on long overwater flights such as those to Hawaii.
  • The neo will also fly from LAX to Hawaii. Its extra fuel efficiency will mean it is less likely to need to operate with a weight restriction limiting the number of customers it can carry.

American’s first neo is currently flying out-and-back trips from PHX to MCO. More routes will be added as more aircraft arrive. American’s second neo has been delivered and is undergoing the usual preparations to get it ready before it enters passenger service.

“We love that ability to fly longer distances much more economically than our current fleet of A321s with a higher passenger payload and where traffic demand is already high,” Dave said.

American has an order for 100 of these aircraft, which are in the “Cabin Flex” or “NX” configuration, a new door arrangement that leaves more room for seats. They’re being delivered through the 2020s.

“I suffer from the pilot disease: I fall in love with every airplane I fly,” Craig said shortly after that first customer flight to MCO. “But these new neos, these new NXs, are my favorite of all the airplanes.”

“It’s a great airplane. Those engines are smooth and quiet,” Craig added. “New airplanes are always fun to fly.”