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The Airbus A321 vs A320 – What Plane Is Best?


The A320 was the model aircraft for Airbus that pushed the company to become a household name. With more than 400 orders before the aircraft even took flight (especially compared to the earlier A300 that only had 15 orders), the A320 series would quickly become a staple product for the company. However, only one year after the A320 family launched, Airbus announced a further derivative of their classic aircraft, the A321. Which one is better? Let’s take a look.

Lufthansa, Ryanair, Irresponsible Low Fares
Which aircraft out of the two trusted Airbus narrowbodies stands out from its sibling? Photo: Getty Images

Going up against each other are the classic A320 and the A321. Additionally, do the new versions of both that have hit the market (neo or new engine option versions) still compete on the same level?

A320
A side by side comparison of the Airbus A320 family. Photo: Julien.scavini via Wikimedia Commons

What models are there in the A320 family?

Let us start by outlining the various models of the A320 family in a 2-class setting.

A318

Passengers: 107

Range: 3,100 NM (5,741 km)

A319

Passengers: 124

Range: 3,750 NM (6,945 km)

A320

Passengers: 150

Range: 3,300 NM (6,112 km)

A321

Passengers: 185

Range: 3,200 NM (5,926 km)

The New Engine Option

Also, for the sake of clarity here is the same table for the neo versions in a 2 class setting.

A319neo

Passengers: 140

Range: 3,750 NM (6,950 km)

A320neo

Passengers: 165

Range: 3,500 NM (6,500 km)

A321neo

Passengers: 206

Range: 4,000 NM (7,400 km)

A321LR

Passengers: 220

Range: 4,100 NM (7,600 km)

The above specifications highlight the differences between the two models. We can see that while the A320 carries fewer passengers than the A321, it has a better range (although has nothing on the A319). The A320neo, however, does not compete with the bigger A321neo with its larger capacity and greater range.

the A321LR
The Airbus A321LR is proving a popular choice with many carriers thanks to its capacity and range. Source: Airbus

On these numbers above, it is clear that the new A321neo is the best aircraft in the Airbus family (and perhaps the A321LR also gives them a run for their money).

Following the positive feedback of the series, Airbus has also launched the A321XLR to complement its beloved A321neo series. The company states that this aircraft is the next evolutionary step and is based on the response to market needs for even more range.

Notably, the jet creates more value for the carriers by bringing 30% lower fuel burn per seat than previous-generation competitor planes. When introduced this decade, the the XLR will provide an unprecedented range of up to 4,700 NM. This figure is 15% greater than the A321LR and with the same fuel efficiency.

“With this added range, airlines will be able to operate a lower-cost single-aisle aircraft on longer and less heavily travelled routes – many of which can now only be served by larger and less efficient wide-body aircraft,” Airbus said in a press release seen by Simple Flying.

“This will enable operators to open new world-wide routes such as India to Europe or China to Australia, as well as further extending the Family’s non-stop reach on direct transatlantic flights between continental Europe and the Americas. For passengers, the A321XLR’s new Airspace cabin will provide the best travel experience, while offering seats in all classes with the same high-comfort as on long-haul widebody aircraft.”

A321XLR
Many carriers jumped at the chance to get their hands on the Airbus A321XLR when it was launched last summer. Photo: Airbus

So, this Airbus narrowbody can easily fly routes such as Montreal, Canada-Split Croatia. Therefore, it could be the greatest member of the A320 series when entered into service.

As for the older aircraft, if you want range you go with the A319 if you want capacity you choose the A321, but if you want that sweet spot in the middle, then the A320 is your best bet. Although we would argue that 100 NM is hardly a justification to not choose the A321 over the A320.

Lufthansa, Airbus A320, Grounded
Many airlines such as Lufthansa hold several variants of the Airbus A320 family of aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Altogether, all these facts might be moot until we understand which of these aircraft are more popular with each airline. Here are the total orders and deliveries as of February 2020.

A318

Orders: 80

Deliveries: 80

A319

Orders: 1,489

Deliveries: 1,470

A320

Orders: 4,770

Deliveries: 4,652

A321

Orders: 1,800

Deliveries: 1,687

As we can see, most airlines actually chose the middle ground, the A320. This aircraft easily got more than double the orders than the A321.

As for the Neo versions:

A319neo

Orders: 56

Deliveries: 0

A320neo

Orders: 4,101

Deliveries: 356

A321neo

Orders: 1,985

Deliveries: 78

The pattern continues here. The A320neo in its later form is still just as popular and easily beats the A321 in terms of orders. This may have something to do with the fact that both the A321 and the A321neo cost approximately another $20 million extra than the A320 and A320neo

Air Astana, Domestic Demand, COVID-19
The Airbus A320neo’s up to date technology clears it ahead of its older siblings. Photo: Getty Images

It depends on the circumstances

Altogether, the choice of which aircraft to take on depends on the requirements of the airline. In a healthy market when carriers need the extra capacity, the A321 would be the perfect option.

For instance, during the middle of the last decade, American Airlines made the decision to gradually replace many of its A320 jets with A321s. Forbes reports that this move was based on a period when the majority of airlines in the US were filling in every seat.

However, today, the industry is in a completely different climate. The global health crisis has taken its toll on the aviation market across the continents. Travel restrictions and passenger concerns have forced the suspension of countless flights, which have in turn caused the long-term grounding of many aircraft.

aeroflot-a320
Despite the A321 having greater capacity, the A320’s balance makes it the more popular choice for airlines. Photo: Getty Images

Several airlines are struggling to fill in aircraft unless they operate a skeleton service. Subsequently, the capacity of the A320 may be more suitable for a number of carriers in the current conditions. Overall, in an age when airlines are increasingly becoming conscious when it comes to efficiency, the option that meets demand on the spot would be best.

After all, Airbus emphasized the A320neo’s efficiency capabilities when launching the new generation. The planemaker stated that the plane will offer up to 20% savings in fuel burn per seat by 2020. It also said there would be a nearly 50% reduction in engine noise and NOx emissions 50% below the previous industry standard.

Which is your favorite Airbus A320 family aircraft? Which variants have you flown on over the years? Let us know what you think of the jets in the comment section.



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