Airbus announced on Wednesday a firm order for 50 A321XLR jets by United Airlines. With a capacity of up to 240 passengers, Airbus aircraft will begin delivery in 2024 and replace part of the Boeing 757 fleet, currently with 74 aircraft.

“The new Airbus A321XLR aircraft is an ideal one-for-one replacement for the older, less-efficient aircraft currently operating between some of the most vital cities in our intercontinental network,” said Andrew Nocella, United’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer . “In addition to strengthening our ability to fly more efficiently, the A321XLR opens potential new destinations to further develop our route network and provide customers with more options to travel the globe.”

“We are delighted to be re-united with our friends in Chicago and thank them for their trust. The selection of the A321XLR by the leadership of United Airlines is a ringing endorsement of the range, payload, and fuel efficiency that Airbus incorporated into this state-of-the-art aircraft,” said Christian Scherer, Airbus Chief Commercial Officer. “The exceptional versatility and performance of the A321XLR enable new operational efficiencies that flow to the airline’s bottom line.”

According to Airbus, United Airlines plans to use the A321XLR on transatlantic routes from 2025 onwards. With a range of 4,700 nautical miles (8,700 km), the A321’s long-range variant is capable of operating on routes previously only possible with widebodies.

United Airlines Boeing 757: Airline operates over 70 aircraft with an average age of almost 22 years (Craig Sunter)

More pressure on Boeing

The new order from a US airline puts more pressure on Boeing, which has seen its European rival open a huge lead in orders as it struggles to get the 737 MAX back in service. Since the A321XLR was announced, American Airlines and JetBlue have become customers of the aircraft.

Without a direct competitor, the A321XLR can win even more US customers. Delta Air Lines, for example, has a vast fleet of 757 and has become a major Airbus customer in recent years, including the first order for the A220 (the smallest jet from the manufacturer) in the country.

Nonetheless, United Airlines is also a major customer of the 737 MAX 10, the largest single-aisle variant ever created. But the Boeing aircraft does not offer a range and passenger capacity similar to the A321XLR. There are a maximum of 230 seats and a range of 3,300 nautical miles (6,110 km) at best.

To compete with the A321XLR, Boeing is studying the NMA, a small widebody that would make the transition from 737 to 787, but recent rumors have indicated that the manufacturer would have changed its mind and is now planning to launch a new aisle jet, internally named Future Small Airplane (FSA).

Whatever Boeing’s decision is, this future jet will still take a long time to reach the market, and that makes the Airbus plane even more attractive.

American Airlines wil replace its Boeing 757 with the new A321XLR (Airbus)