TAP Air Portugal, which is on an expansion drive, will eventually become a customer of the newly launched Airbus A321XLR, co-owner David Neeleman says.

The extra-long range version of the Airbus family of narrowbodies was launched at the Paris Air Show June 17 and by the end of the week had accumulated 260 orders, commitments and order conversions. Customers varied from lessor Air Lease Corp. to British Airways parent International Airlines Group, American Airlines, Philippine LCC Cebu Pacific, ultra-LCC specialist Indigo Partners, New York-based JetBlue Airways and Australia's Qantas.

The same week as the air show, Neeleman was at an event in Washington DC to mark the launch of TAP’s Lisbon-Washington Dulles direct service.

“We will order it,” he told reporters when asked about the XLR. TAP has two A321LRs with 12 more ordered and Neeleman said some might be converted to the XLR. He said the XLR would be a good aircraft for routes such as Lisbon-Chicago and could reach as far as Sao Paulo, but the earliest it would be available is 2023.

TAP has launched three US nonstop city destinations from Lisbon this summer, with the 5X-weekly Washington service as well as 5X-weekly services to San Francisco International and to Chicago O’Hare. The Airbus A330-900neo, for which TAP was the launch customer, is operated on all the new routes and has been introduced on TAP’s Lisbon-New York JFK route. The airline also flies to Boston and Miami.

TAP says the number of passengers it has carried in the North Atlantic market grew by 176.5% between 2015 and 2018, accompanied by an almost fourfold increase in the number of available seats over the same time since 2015, when TAP’s only US destinations were New York Newark and Miami.

The airline will launch flights to another five non-US destinations this summer: to Conakry and Banjul from Lisbon, and to Brussels, Lyon and Munich from Porto. With these new routes, the TAP network will grow to 91 cities in 37 countries. 

By the end of 2019, TAP will have taken delivery of 37 new Airbus aircraft and 71 by 2025. The Star Alliance airline’s turnaround began with a privatization process in 2015 in which a consortium of private investors known as the Atlantic Gateway Group, and led by Neeleman, took a 45% share in the airline.

Speaking at the Washington service launch event in the Portuguese Embassy residence, TAP CEO Antonoaldo Neves noted that “in three weeks, we’ve opened three new routes in the US, practically doubling our presence in the US. All with brand new aircraft, and we are the first to operate the A330neo and the A321LR in the transatlantic market, which is a very important market for us. None of this would have possible without the vision of David Neeleman and it’s a much easier task with him onboard.”

Neeleman remarked that, while United Airlines operates a summer-only Washington-Lisbon service, “That really doesn’t benefit Portugal when you only come in summer. You need to be there on a year-round basis; you need to stay,” he said. TAP will probably operate the A321LR on the route through winter, enabling it to maintain a year-round service.

Karen Walker/ATW karen.walker@informa.com