Airbus is promoting the advantages of its new A330neo (the -800) and a new higher-weight version of the first A330neo, the A330-900, as it celebrates the second-best year so far for A330 sales, with orders amounting to 104 aircraft in 2019. The A330-800 has notched up two orders for a total of six aircraft, Airbus noted. It is also working on a 251-tonne version of the -800, first flight of which took place on February 28.
The European airframer describes the advances as “two step-changes” to the entry-level widebody, which it sees providing replacement opportunities for “600-plus A330-200s and remaining 767s” while also “shaking up” the 250-seat segment of the market as a less complex alternative to the Boeing 787.
The -800 variant of the A330neo now has FAA and EASA certification (gained on February 13) and will enter service in 2021, while the new heavier-weight variant of the -900 will enter service during the second half of 2020.
The 251-tonne A330-900 (an increase of 9 tonnes) offers 12 percent less fuel-burn per trip and a 650-nm range boost, to 7,200 nm, opening markets such as Asia-U.S. West Coast (ETOPS remains 240 minutes and no increase in maximum thrust from the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines is needed). It also offers other cost savings with lower maintenance costs from increasing landing gear TBO from 10 to 12 years and 30 percent fewer airframe inspection tasks, according to Airbus.
During a Tuesday morning conference call with journalists, Airbus head of widebody marketing Maria-Luisa Lucas-Ugena explained how some airlines are deploying a dual-type strategy where they operate A321XLRs alongside A330neos—an example being AirAsia X.
Airbus calls the A330-800, with a range extending to 8,150 nm, “ideal for long, thin routes.” With the A321XLR, it offers “a low-risk path to sustained growth,” added Airbus, and forms a partnership that can work over large networks, such as those that span the Pacific.
Jean-Philippe Cottet, head of development flight tests, said Airbus created the new-weight variant of the -900 via various upgrades, such as weight-neutral reinforcements to the wing, engine pylon, and fuselage (i.e. the manufacturer’s empty weight stays the same as today’s 242-tonne A330); and reinforced landing gear bogie beam and new wheels, brakes, and tires. Maintaining 99 percent commonality with the existing model, the aircraft has retained a common type-rating with the current A330 fleet, requiring only a one- to two-day conversion.
To date, customers have ordered 323 A330-900s and Airbus has delivered 45. Launch customer TAP Air Portugal operates the largest fleet; its first aircraft entered service on December 15, 2018.