Airbus A321LR Maiden flight
Credit: Courtesy of Airbus

Airbus’s first A321LR aircraft completed its first transatlantic test flight from Paris Le Bourget to New York City's JFK earlier this year. It is the longest flight that the highly anticipated aircraft has completed so far.

When the aircraft is put in commercial operation — expected at the end of this year — aviation analysts expect that it will dominate the “middle of the market.”

The A321LR is at the center of an unofficial battle in the aviation industry: that between jumbo jets and smaller, more fuel efficient aircraft. Designed with transatlantic aviation in mind, the A321 can fly for 4,000 nautical miles (or about eight hours) before it needs to refuel. It is the longest single aisle aircraft currently in production and already being heralded as “the plane that could transform long-haul travel.”

Airbus has more than 1,900 orders already placed from more than 50 different airlines, according to Airline Geeks. And according to a report from CNN, airlines like JetBlue are apparently eyeing the aircraft as they consider expanding service into Europe.

While jumbo jets may make sense for transport hubs like Los Angeles, Beijing or Dubai, the A321 is hoping to open up new routes and marketplaces. Airbus sees the A321 connecting smaller cities that don’t have the demand for a twin-aisle aircraft. The manufacturer also believes that greater fuel efficiency will lead to cheaper operation costs which, in turn, will create cheaper airfare for passengers.

The model has worked well for budget airlines like Norwegian Air and WOW Air. Within the past year, the low-cost airlines have opened new transatlantic routes from places like Connecticut and Rhode Island to Belfast, Bergen, Dublin, Cork, Shannon, and Edinburgh from $89. Norwegian has already confirmed 30 orders for the A321LR and is considering using the aircraft on transatlantic routes to and from Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, orders for jumbo jets are stagnating. Last year, both Delta and United retired their last Boeing 747 aircraft. The iconic plane — which transformed aviation in the 1970s as the world’s first wide-body aircraft — is no longer flown by any U.S. carrier. Boeing announced it could even shut down production of the “Queen of the Skies.”

And earlier this year, the world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, was hanging by a lifeline and in danger of becoming extinct. The plane will remain in production for another 10 years thanks to a large order from Emirates. But its future beyond that it uncertain. Its sheer size limits the airports at which it can land and fuel costs make it expensive to maintain.