Orders for more than 1,400 A330s and A340s has been the Airbus reward for 15 years of continuous innovation, including the introduction of A340-600-technology flight deck, cabin, systems and structures upgrades across the range in 2002-04.
According to A330/A340 product marketing director Alan Pardoe, the latest developments cover new cargo loading arrangements and extended maintenance inspection intervals, as well as the promise of increased A330-200 range or payload under a higher maximum takeoff weight, reduced drag and improved extended-range twin-engine operations performance.
The current A330/A340 order backlog stands at more than 400, with the 1,000th example having been rolled out earlier this year. The European manufacturer counts Singapore Airlines and Swiss alongside five Middle East carriers as new A330-300 customers or operators replacing Boeing 777s or smaller A330-200s. In addition, Airbus is preparing for a rerun of the U.S. Air Force KC-45 aerial-refueling (AR) tanker competition and continuing tests of the A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) being developed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
The A330/340’s new lower deck cargo-loading system (CLS), for which Aeroflot is the first customer, follows long-term analysis of in-service experience and will involve redesign of some parts and fewer maintenance tasks, said Pardoe. The improved CLS features an increased number of single-type power-drive units that are said to offer “very low” roller wear and an improved ball-mat design.
Following the latest A330/A340 maintenance review board report, European and North American airworthiness authorities have recently approved revised inspection schedules, extending A-check intervals from 600 to 800 flight hours (double the service-entry frequency) and C-checks from 18 to 21 or 24 months (compared with the initial 15-month schedule). Intermediate checks remain at six-year intervals, but structural (or “heavy”) inspections are extended for the first time from the original 10 years to every 12 years.
On typical 4,400-flight-hours per year utilization, the extension effectively reduces A-check requirements from seven to five a year. Introduction of less frequent heavy checks will permit operators to synchronize those inspections with intermediate checks, leading to a reduction of one heavy check in the aircraft life, which equates to a nominal life of 60 years. Pardoe said the changes would generate a savings of up to 6 percent in operators’ direct maintenance costs.
Beginning with September 2010 deliveries, the A330-200 may be operated with an mtow of 525,000 pounds that will permit it to carry an extra 7,500 pounds over a 4,900-nm range or an additional 330 nm–to about 7,270 nm–at the current 514,000-pound mtow. Basic aircraft empty weight does not increase, with Airbus having developed the concession by “re-examining and ‘playing with’ existing margins,” said Pardoe. The increased range, which is said to match that expected for early-production Boeing 787-8s, is available as a retrofit to A330-200s built from 2004 onward and can be incorporated within existing C-check down time.
Airbus also is offering enhanced A340-500 and -600 performance on aircraft delivered from the end of this year under a modification to the upper-belly fairing panels around the center wingbox. By improving pressure distribution over the inboard wing, it expects to reduce aerodynamic drag by around 1 percent at current cruise speed. The change is to be verified on a company A340-600 and will be available as a retrofit to existing aircraft under a service bulletin.
The manufacturer also plans to certify the A330-200 for 240-minute (up from 180 minutes) ETOPS operations by next year (currently, 207-minute ETOPS clearance is available for 180-minute-approved aircraft). The extension would permit airlines to fly city pairs such as Johannesburg-Perth, Sydney-Mauritius or Jakarta-Durban that currently are out of reach under 180-minute rules. Pardoe said the change applies to A330-200s with either Honeywell or Thales flight management systems and is expected “in good time” for introduction of 525,000-pound mtow operations.
In mid-May, Airbus parent EADS reported completion of flutter vibration testing on the RAAF A330MRTT with the AR boom system extended. Tests were performed in several flight regimes, including high speed and high altitude, and are scheduled to include first passing of fuel to a receiver aircraft by mid-year.
Other activity in the past six months of Phase 2 MRTT flight tests have confirmed flight-control laws and AR compatibility with other military aircraft (both as a refueled and receiver), extended the centerline AR boom and underwing pod operational envelope and tested on-board avionics, including data communications and multifunctional information distribution systems.
The first RAAF A330MRTT is scheduled to be delivered in the first quarter of next year; the type also has been ordered by Saudi Arabia, the UK and the United Arab Emirates.