Arkia will now be first to fly the A321neoLR following Primera Air collapse

Israel’s Arkia Airlines has emerged as the launch operator of the A321neoLR following the demise of Primera Air. However, as official records stand the carrier does not have a formal commitment for the variant and had not previously been highlighted as a customer for the long-range model.


Summary:

  • Israel’s Arkia Airlines has taken the place of Primera Air as the first Airbus A321neoLR operator;
  • Losing a launch operator to bankruptcy weeks before first delivery is an unusual situation and Airbus is fortunate to have Arkia willing to fill the void at short notice;
  • Arkia becomes a new Airbus operator but had previously committed to acquiring four A321neos;
  • Arkia becomes the tenth known A321neoLR operator; the other nine are expected to start receiving aircraft in 2019 or 2020.

Speaking at a 19-Oct-2108 media briefing at the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) Assembly of Presidents in Jeju, Airbus VP marketing for Asia and North America Joost van der Heijden said the A321neoLR will enter service by the end of 2018. He added that Arkia will be the launch operator, confirming media reports from earlier this month.

As The Blue Swan Daily previously analysed, Primera Air was initially slated to be the A321neoLR launch operator and take the only two aircraft due to be delivered in 2018. Primera suspended operations on 1-Oct-2018, forcing Airbus to find another launch operator.

The confirmation from Airbus that Arkia will be the first A321neoLR operator lifts the number of known A321neoLR operators to 10. The other nine are: Air Arabia, Air Astana, Aer Lingus, Air Transat, Jetstar Airways, Norwegian Air, Peach, SATA and TAP Air Portugal.

Arkia is a rather unlikely launch operator as previously it did not have any announced commitments to the A321neoLR. Arkia is also not a typical launch operator given it is a very small airline with a very low profile. Arkia’s current fleet consists of only seven aircraft. However, it has been planning to become an Airbus operator since 2012, when it placed an order for four A321neos. In 2016 Arkia also ordered two A330-900neos.

TABLE – The A321neoLR will be Arkia’s first Airbus aircraft. The airline currently operates one 757-300 and six Embraer E-jets (three E190s and three E195sSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleet Database

Arkia currently offers services from its Tel Aviv base to 10 European destinations and Bangkok in Thailand as well as domestic services to the southern Israeli resort town of Eliat (based on OAG data for the week commencing 22-Oct-2018). However, some of Arkia’s international services are operated by Italian airline Neos.

Tel Aviv-Bangkok, which is currently served with Neos-operated 767s, would be out of range for the A321neoLR. However, all its European routes would be easily within range. Tel Aviv-London Stansted is currently Arkia’s longest European route at around five hours.

It is one of three routes along with Tel Aviv to Barcelona and Paris CDG that Arkia recently loaded in its schedule under the A321neo. Arkia’s revised winter schedule has A321neo flights to Barcelona from 18-Nov-2018 followed by London Stansted from 19-Nov-2018 and Barcelona from 2-Dec-2018. It appears these will be the first routes in the world operated with the A321neoLR.

While Arkia’s initial A321neoLR routes are well range of the standard version of the A321neo the airline could use the new type to launch new long-haul routes in 2019. Arkia has been looking at launching new long-haul routes since deciding to acquire widebody aircraft in 2016. While A330-900neos could operate  routes such as Tel Aviv-Bangkok, which is around 10 hours, A321neoLRs could be used to operate shorter routes of up to eight hours.

While Arkia’s commitment to A321neoLRs has only emerged since Primera’s collapse, it is possible the airline committed to the type much earlier and has essentially moved up to become the first operator. Airbus does not provide a breakdown between the A321neoLR and the standard A321neo in its order book. It is therefore possible that several A321neo customers have committed to the A321neoLR without announcing intentions to operate the new LR variant.

Airbus launched the A321neoLR programme in 2015. Arkia therefore did not have the option of acquiring A321neoLRs when it initially ordered four A321neos in 2012 but may have converted some or all of these orders to the A321neoLR as early as 2015. As such a conversion would not be reflected in the Airbus order book, it would not have been made public unless Arkia made its own announcement.

Arkia’s first aircraft was photographed at the Airbus Finkenwerder facility in Hamburg last month clearly marked as an ‘LR’ version. The airline stated back in 2012 that its A321neos would have 220 seats in an all-economy configuration.