Plans for a possible extended range version of the Airbus A321LR are "very interesting" for IAG, its chief executive Willie Walsh has disclosed.
Speaking to FlightGlobal at the IATA annual general meeting in Seoul today, Walsh said the "A321XLR" longer range derivative which the European manufacturer is working on was "definitely" a fit for Aer Lingus and Iberia, and could potentially be "attractive" for British Airways and Level following further evaluation.
"It gives us range, which is important, and it gives us payload security, which is equally important as well – so it is good," Walsh says.
Walsh says the aircraft concept could also give Aer Lingus the ability to operate "multiple frequencies” which represents "one of the big opportunities" of the proposed type.
Aer Lingus already has eight A321LRs on order, with the first due to come into service in August. Walsh says the business plan calls for another six of the type, but the A321XLR could "clearly" replace some of those orders.
Walsh says the extra range available with the longer range variant makes the A321XLR "attractive" for Iberia too.
He says the extra range makes the aircraft much more relevant for Iberia than the A321LR, "not so much" for adding new markets but markets that the Spanish carrier currently serves with A330s.
He sees the A321XLR as being viable for routes into northern Brazil, Africa and the US East Coast.
"We used to fly to Recife for example – [we] stopped that a few years ago – so its markets that we used to serve probably too small in relative terms for A350s and A330s," Walsh says.
Asked how many of the jets that could be ordered for the Spanish carrier, Walsh says: "To be honest, at this stage pick a number."
While it is still to confirm plans for such an extended range version, Airbus chief commercial officer Christian Scherer hinted at plans for "extended-range versions [plural]" of the A321 in its single-aisle line-up. Asked when such a derivative could be available for delivery, he said: "The earliest you can expect any new versions of an A321 with some serious work done on it would be the 2023-24 timeframe."
Airbus is widely expected to announce the go-ahead for the extended range version of the A321LR at this month's Paris air show, backed by commitments from customers.