Airbus A321neo

The Rise of the Airbus A321 in the U.S. Market

When I was younger, I sought to fly on as many aircraft types as I possibly could. As an infrequent flyer at the time, every new plane I flew on was special. Planning my future travel and thinking back on my younger self, I am reminded of one aircraft that I was so eager to fly on, and eventually did, but has now become so common in the U.S. that I find it interesting that the plane had eluded me for so long.

That aircraft is the Airbus A321. The Largest Member of the Family The Airbus A321, the largest member of the Airbus A320 family, was offered as a way to compete with Boeing’s 757-200 aircraft. Both aircrafts were able to carry a similar amount of passengers, however, the 757 had the advantage of the A321 due to its larger range and greater passenger capacity. Boeing was also the preferred manufacturer of the American airline industry, with airline’s going for the Boeing’s 757 over the Airbus A321. Phoenix-based America West Airlines had a primarily Airbus fleet but preferred the Boeing 757 due to its better performance in the “hot and high” conditions of Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The airline never acquired an A321 for those reasons, a fad followed by many airlines of the time, but did maintain a healthy A319 and A320 fleet which were interchangeable to its pilots. However, a major benefit of the A321 was that it was basically an extension of the A320, making pilot training and maintenance more streamlined and inexpensive. Pilots already having a type rating on an A320 could fly the A321 without an additional type rating and mechanics would not have to be retrained on the A321, saving airlines a lot of money. Low-cost carriers prefer buying aircraft of the same family for exactly these reasons. Building Up a Hub in the West Ten years ago, if you were flying on an Airbus A321 in the U.S., you’d be flying on either US Airways or Spirit Airlines. US Airways used the plane as one of its workhorses, in addition to the A320 and A319.

The plane would fly the airline’s popular routes, including transcontinental and Carribean routes from Philadelphia and Charlotte. Spirit Airlines’ A321s were less widespread as the ultra-low-cost carrier only ordered 30 aircraft. In an unexpected but logical move, US Airways used the plane on short flights from its Phoenix hub to the West Coast. While it seems counterintuitive to fly a larger aircraft on such short routes, usually less than 2 hours in duration, US Airways knew that a good amount of its travelers would be flying through Phoenix to get to points west. The high passenger flow through Phoenix warranted a bigger plane on those routes and the A321 obliged. Lacking hubs in popular destinations in California, the airline couldn’t offer non-stop service to the Coast from all the cities that it […]

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