Airbus Maps Out Future for A330

 - July 22, 2013, 10:49 AM
Asian operators of the Airbus A330, such as Philippines-based Cebu Air, have used their aircraft to carry more than 400 passengers, prompting the manufacturer to consider a new "regional" variant to operate at a lower weight. (Photo: Airbus)

As Airbus handed over the 1,000th A330 to Cathay Pacific Airways last Friday, it confirmed plans to accelerate introduction of the 242-metric-ton maximum takeoff weight model and to offer a new, lower operating weight, shorter-range “regional” variant. The twin-aisle twinjet has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, partly benefitting from Boeing 787 delays and also, Airbus officials believe, from carriers reconsidering its operating economics against those of the new U.S. design. “We’ve sold more A330s since the 787 was launched than before,” said Airbus COO for customers John Leahy.

The 242-ton variant introduces an A330-300 center wing fuel tank to increase range over 235-ton examples by up to 500 nm (to an overall 6,100 nm) and by some 350 nm for 238-ton A330-200s flying with full passenger loads. Assisted by changes such as more aerodynamic flap-track fairings, more efficient inboard slats and offset by limited structural reinforcement, the new variant would permit long westbound flights from southeast Asia to Europe or New York-Tokyo.

Leahy confirmed to AIN that Airbus is “definitely trying to bring the [242-ton] aircraft forward.” Previously, Airbus has talked of mid-2015 service entry. Leahy said delivery could occur by the end of the second quarter. If Airbus aims to complete manufacture before June 2015, final assembly would have to start by around the end of next year.

A330 production runs at 10 per month; plans call for the higher-gross-weight variant to roll off the line at one a month. Airbus said it carries the capacity then to increase production incrementally by one a month to reach “Rate 10” within ten months.

Airbus officials say the A330 “has come full circle” since introduction in 1994. Initially marketed as a regional twin-aisle design for areas such as Asia, it progressively evolved to offer increased-range options. More recently, it has come back into favor in its original market sector, especially those requiring higher loads. For example, China’s Sichuan Airlines and Cebu Air of the Philippines both have taken A330s this year configured with 430 or more seats, said Airbus head of twin-aisle marketing Crawford Hamilton.

Accordingly, Airbus now is considering a new variant—possibly to operate at a maximum takeoff weight of about 207 metric tons—to provide a “network solution” for operators by providing higher capacity “at their cost base.” Airbus would seek certification at lower weight and engine thrust, thereby generating lower acquisition, engine, maintenance and en route navigation costs, said Leahy.