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Airbus 321NX – The view from the cockpit

The addition of new aircraft to the fleet is not just exciting for travelers, but for the crew, too. Here, SAS pilot Rasmus Ilsø Olsen explains how it feels to fly the Airbus 321NX.

Along with Fleet Chief Thomas Jakobsen, Assistant Chief Flight Instructor and Airbus Fleet Chief Pilot Karl Wilhelmson, the crew made the trip from Copenhagen to Washington in the aircraft, also known as Jarl Viking, to acquaint themselves properly with the new member of the SAS fleet.

The journey, with a flying time of about 9.5 hours is close to the maximum possible for the 321NX, which has a slightly shorter range than the Airbus 330 and 350. Looking further ahead it will also be used for routes between Scandinavia and the east coast of the US. In this case, the long journey meant that the crew had plenty of time to get used to the aircraft.

Rasmus Ilsø Olsen“A new aircraft is like a new car” says Rasmus Ilsø Olsen, who joined SAS in 1998. “It feels and smells great. That said, you don`t really notice if an aircraft is brand new or several years old, since all our fleet is so well maintained. Our new Airbus 321NX is a top modern aircraft, very similar to our current Airbus 320NEOs, so, as a pilot you’re instantly reminded of the evolutionary development of the industry over the past decades.”

Sustainability is key

What makes the Airbus 321NX really stand out are its sustainability credentials. The amount of fuel the new aircraft consumed on that flight from Copenhagen to Washington was less than half that of the Airbus 330 on the same route. Part of that can be attributed to its winglets, which reduce the drag on the aircraft and improve fuel efficiency  by approximately 7%. But does the crew feel any difference in this respect?

“The aircraft is basically the same and handles more or less the same way, but with a maximum weight 20 tons higher and an extra 6m in length, an experienced Airbus pilot would immediately notice the slight differences in handling characteristics caused by the physical laws. From a pilot’s point of view, not only is it easy to fly, it’s a great workplace, especially on long shift days,” says Ilsø Olsen, who began his flying career on the Fokker 50, the smallest aircraft in the fleet at the time. He later progressed to a host of others, including the Airbus 320 family, which he describes as his favorite aircraft so far. 

Getting to know the new “office”

In many ways, the new Airbus 321NX Airbus and 320NEO are almost identical, right down to the engines in fact, which are extremely fuel-efficient and noticeably quieter than older versions, the Airbus 320CEO and 321CEO. However, the differences mean extra training for the pilots, so several sessions have already begun to help them acquaint themselves with the aircraft.

Seats in A321LR“The pilots need to train several aspects, including opening the over-wing exits from the inside and other things to comply with industry rules,” says Ilsø Olsen. “And there are other considerations too, such as approval of the aircraft, special maintenance and dispatch procedures,” he adds.

And finally, most travelers have a special favorite destination. But what about the pilots?

“I like the variety, from the remotely located airports in northern Scandinavia to the busy airports across Europe, says Rasmus Ilsø Olsen.

“One of my absolute favorites is London Heathrow. It’s an extremely busy and intense airport to operate in, with an impressively high number of operations where you meet carriers from all over the world. And as a visitor, I love London – it’s by far one of the most iconic cities in the world!  

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