Airbus expects to need only 100h of flights to certify the A321LR, with the campaign centred on the aircraft's long-range capabilities.
The initial A321LR – MSN7877 – has returned to Hamburg Finkenwerder, where it performed a low pass before circling for touchdown. Its landing at 13:42 followed a maiden flight, with a crew of six, which took the twinjet over the North Sea to the north of the Dutch coast.
Airbus head of flight and integration tests Patrick du Che says the aircraft will conduct around 20-30 flights during the campaign, including transatlantic services between Paris and New York to test the cabin installations.
The A321LR will combine a new door configuration for the A321 fuselage – the 'Airbus Cabin Flex' layout which enables the installation of up to 240 seats – with the option of three additional centre tanks, two aft and one forward, to extend range.
Although structurally manufactured to the 97t maximum take-off weight configuration, MSN7877 has been fitted with only two additional centre tanks – the third will be installed over the next few days, A320 programme chief Klaus Roewe tells FlightGlobal.
The extra tank stretches the range to some 4,000nm. Typically for operations at this range the aircraft will be fitted with around 175 seats in two classes, Roewe says. He points out that customers intending such long-range operations also require such features as larger waste tanks and de-humidifying systems.
Airbus has yet to identify the first customer to receive the A321LR. But it is aiming for certification in the second quarter of this year. The initial aircraft, featuring the new door configuration, will be delivered around mid-year but the first full A321LR will enter service in the fourth quarter.
The maiden flight involved basic handling and systems checks up to 31,000ft and 300kt before a further climb to 35,000ft to assess high-speed handling, trim and pressurisation at M0.78.
Du Che says the aircraft reached its maximum altitude of 39,000ft and that the scheduled called for checks on the anti-ice and fuel systems before a descent to around 10,000-14,000ft to explore low-speed and flight-envelope protection.
Roewe stresses that the campaign will pay particular attention to cabin comfort, since the aircraft is intended to serve the long-haul sector.
"If you put people in an aircraft for 10h, they have certain expectations in comfort," he says. "It's one of the objectives to be maintained."
Airbus is aiming to simplify the designations for the variants under the A321neo name, given that the A321LR will become the build standard for the A321. Roewe says it will "supersede" the current A321 around 2019.