First A330-200F prepares for launch customer Etihad

Farnborough Air Show » 2010
July 16, 2010, 2:58 AM

The latest member of the Airbus A330 family is the Series 200F cargo variant, which was launched in early 2007 and is scheduled for mid-2010 entry into service with Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Crystal Cargo. The manufacturer had taken orders from 11 customers for 66 A330Fs by May this year, as it also continued to develop the established passenger variant.

The global widebody freighter fleet includes over 300 aircraft more than 20 years old, according to Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy. “The A330-200F is well positioned as the only new midsize freighter,” he told a recent press briefing.

European airworthiness approval for the freighter was received in April 2010, five months after the first flight. According to Tom Williams, Airbus programs and customer support executive vice president, the aircraft has been performing “better than expected.” The aircraft is offered in payload or range modes–delivering ranges of between 3,200 and 4,000 nm, carrying payloads of 143,300 to 154,350 pounds.
Airbus marketing v-p Andrew Shankland claimed that the much larger Boeing 747-400F freighter has a cash-operating cost per 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of payload that is some 15 percent higher than that of the A330-200F. His figures assume an A330F flying a 70,000-kilogram (154,320 pounds) load five times a week over a 3,000-nm sector compared with a 747-400F operating three such flights carrying 109,000 kilograms (240,345 pounds).

Reinforced Fuselage and Floors
Principal changes from the passenger A330 comprise the introduction of a reinforced fuselage and floors, new main-deck cargo door, accommodation for up to 12 couriers behind the cockpit and a new nose landing-gear bay. The cargo door is the same size as that developed for the earlier A300-600F, while the stronger floor will support “improved shear and bending/running loads,” according to A330/A340 chief engineer Christian Favre.

The Airbus 20-year market forecast perceives demand for more than 400 freighters in the 60-plus metric ton category, a “large percentage” of which Airbus believes can be met by the A330-200F. Up to 23 side-by-side pallets can be accommodated on the cargo aircraft’s main deck, which also can be configured for single-row loading of 16 pallets, and a mix of nine industry-standard AMA containers with four pallets. Below the floor, the two-compartment belly hold will take up to 26 LD3 cargo containers, with additional room for 695 cu ft of bulk freight.

Leasing and service companies placing orders for A330-200Fs include Iceland’s Avion Aircraft Trading (which has a lease agreement with Icelandair Cargo) and Asia’s BOC Aviation (the former Singapore Aircraft Leasing Enterprise). U.S. investment fund Matlin Patterson Global Advisers has booked six through an affiliate and expects the aircraft to be used by some of its airline portfolio companies, such as new Airbus operators Varig Logistica in Brazil and Global Aero Logistics in the U.S. Apart from Etihad, airline customers include India’s Flyington Freighters and Turkish cargo operators MNG Airlines and ACT Airlines of Istanbul.

Overall, Airbus has taken firm orders for more than 1,080 A330 variants, of which about 700 have been delivered to almost 90 customers. There is “significant” unfulfilled demand for 250- to 350-seat, short- and medium-range aircraft in the coming decade, according to Shankland.

Leahy is keen to point out that the twin-aisle twinjet has not suffered from competition, around 630 orders having been taken since the Boeing 787 was launched in April 2004. Shankland said the A330 has averaged between four and five new operators a year during 2005-09, with the number having doubled from 41 to 82 in the past eight years.

The fleet has logged more 3.5 million flights and some 14.5 million flight hours, said Leahy, making average sectors a little more than four hours long. Utilization is growing at about 200,000 flight hours per month, roughly equivalent to each aircraft flying between nine and 10 hours a day.

By 2012, the A330 will have enjoyed 20 years’ “continuous upgrade,” said Favre. Performance has improved as Airbus has continued A330 development, according to Williams. Since introduction of the A330 Enhanced standard (from MSN 550), operational dispatch reliability has been 99.4 percent; aircraft flown by Singapore Airlines under a “flight hours services” contract have been achieving a higher 99.64-percent rate.

Two changes involve reduced airframe inspection frequency: A-check line-maintenance intervals have been extended from 600 to 800 flight hours, while the heavier C-check is now conducted every 21 or 24 months, rather than 18 months.

One innovation is airborne traffic situational-awareness (ATSAW) equipment, which Airbus claims will permit operators to save fuel by flying at optimum flight levels. ATSAW, which entered service last month, receives traffic information via automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast and shows it on the navigation display. The data identifies other traffic, providing position, heading, relative altitude, vertical-speed “tendency,” and ground speed, said Favre.

Other A330 enhancements entering service or under development include an on-board information terminal (OIT) mounted on a sliding table in front of each pilot; some 40 aircraft are expected to have the equipment by year-end. This will be followed by a side-mounted OIT display unit, for which an installation kit should be available by December 2011 for four-day retrofit.

Also next year, Airbus plans to introduce an enhanced RNP-AR (required navigation performance with authorization required) system that will offer an 0.1-nm missed-approach accuracy–compared with the 0.3 nm of initial equipment introduced in 2007). The A330 application, certified last year, is the “first and only” such equipment with widebody approval, said Shankland. Such GPS-based precision-approach capacity gives “the A330 access to airports in challenging terrain or with limited navigational infrastructure.”

More Changes Coming
Coming in the next two years is conflict-awareness equipment first offered on the A380. The traffic alert and collision avoidance system has been integrated with the autopilot/flight-director to give vertical-speed guidance based on a TCAS target. “This provides an optimum avoidance maneuver in case of conflicting traffic,” said Favre. The maneuver will be automatic if the autopilot is engaged; otherwise flight-director orders will be displayed.

Before 2012, Airbus hopes to have introduced its runway-overrun protection system (ROPS). Development was launched last year in response to growing incidence of such events. An initial runway-overrun warning facility computes operational landing distances (according to prevailing conditions) for comparison with available landing distance and alerts the pilot, who would normally be required to go around. If a pilot elects to land on a runway perceived to be too short, the ROPS would automatically stop the aircraft in the shortest possible distance using full braking power and maximum reverse thrust if required.

In September, Korean Airlines is to introduce an A330 optional higher maximum takeoff weight of just over 507,000 pounds for passenger variants. This increase of around 11,000 pounds comes courtesy of the new A330-200F and is “easily retrofitable” for aircraft from MSN 555, said Favre.

Another benefit derived from freighter development is an aircraft empty-weight reduction of about 250 kilograms (or about 550 pounds). The retrofit, which involves a “fastener-material change only” and no wing modification for a “large majority” of aircraft, should be available by March 2011, he said.

The additional takeoff weight can be translated into 350 nm extra range or an extra 7,500 pounds of payload (beyond about 4,900 nm), according to Leahy. Shankland said the growth makes the A330 more competitive against the Boeing 787-8, with 246-passenger ranges of 6,850 nm and 6,990 nm, respectively.

Airbus has launched a two-phase program to extend A330/A340 airframe service goal to permit 30 years of operation. The A340 first intermediate increase came in late 2009, with the full extension expected in 2012, with the A330 expected to reach its fully extended goal in 2016-17.    

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