Airbus will push ahead with a limited overhaul of its A330 widebody as it seeks to extend the life span of the profitable jetliner against competition from Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
The plans, revealed overnight at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK, confirm that Airbus has decided against developing a new engine variant of the A330, as it has done with the A320neo. Instead, it will focus on minor upgrades that will expand the aircraft’s maximum takeoff weight to 240 tonnes.
That will allow the larger A330-300 to extend its range by about 7 per cent to 5950nm (11,020km) while being able to carry five tonnes of additional payload. The A330-200 will see a 4 per cent increase in range to 7050nm (13,060km) while getting 2.5 tonnes of extra payload. In practical terms, Airbus says the extra range will allow the A330-300 to connect city pairs such as Melbourne and Beijing, London and Tokyo, and Kuala Lampur and Paris.
Airbus said it hoped to begin shipping upgraded A330s by the second half of 2015 and indicated that it expects to announce a first customer for the aircraft this week. The A330 has enjoyed something of a renaissance in orders over recent years thanks to the long delays that have plagued Boeing’s 787 program. On paper, the largest of the 787s – the proposed 787-10 – is expected to seat 25 more passengers than the A330-300 while offering 1000nm of additional range. But with the Boeing plane still years away from production, Airbus hopes the upgraded A330 will be able to entice customers well into this decade.
In its announcement, Airbus claimed the overhauled A330 would serve as “an extremely cost-effective alternative to the B787 on many routes with around five per cent lower direct operating costs per trip.” Airbus said the increased range of the A330-300 would also allow it to cover more of the A330-200’s network, giving airlines the flexibility to use the -200 to open new routes and grow frequency while using the -300 to build capacity.
“The A330 has come a long way in the last 10 years, and we are delighted to bring to more airlines the advantages and reliability of A330 economics over ever wider markets,” said John Leahy, chief operating officer – customers of Airbus. “This aircraft is the most popular aircraft ever in its category and looks set to hold this position for years to come.”