Airbus Continues To Stretch A330 Capabilities

 - March 26, 2018, 10:52 AM
The first A330-800 rolls out of its paint shop in early February. (Photo: Airbus)

Airbus insists it is not discouraged by Hawaiian Airlines’s move to ditch its order for six A330-800s in favor of Boeing 787-9s, saying its aircraft—specifically the newly launched higher weight version—offers unbeatable benefits in terms of operational versatility, cabin comfort, range, and capital costs compared with the 787-9. The first and sole customer for the Toulouse-based OEM’s smallest version of the A330neo, Hawaiian placed the order shortly after the Farnborough Air Show in July 2014 and canceled it in late February, just days after the first A330-800—MSN1888—rolled out from its paint shop in France. Flight tests of the variant will start soon and Airbus expects certification next year.

The program will continue as planned and development of the -800 remains “on track,” Airbus executives told AIN, while highlighting the continued success of the A330 program overall. Airbus sold 1,701 A330s (including freighters and MRTT) and 107 passenger airlines operate the aircraft, LCCs as well as full-service airlines. It sold more than 1,200 A330s since the 787 launch 14 years ago. “The best thing to happen to the A330 was the launch of the 787. It made people look at the midsize market,” said A330 head of marketing Crawford Hamilton. Firm orders since the launch of the neo top 417, of which 203 have gone to the ceo and 214 to the upgraded version. Delta Air Lines signed on as the launch customer of A330neo and TAP Air Portugal as the launch operator. The Portuguese carrier plans to take delivery of the first aircraft this summer. It has ordered 10 of the -900 jetliners and plans to operate a similar number on lease. AirAsia X by far ranks as the largest customer, having placed an order for 66 A330-900s.

The A330-900 has progressed halfway through its flight-test program and the two aircraft assigned to flight testing—MSN1795 and MSN1813—have accumulated 560 hours on 160 flights. Tests completed include crosswind tests in Ireland, a hot weather campaign in Mexico and cold weather testing in Kazakhstan. Airbus initially scheduled cold testing to take place in Canada, but “at negative 7C, it was too warm there,” said Hamilton. “We’re on target for EIS mid-summer,” he added.

The certification development program will last around 1,400 flight-test hours, comprising 1,100 flight hours for the A330-900 campaign—to achieve its respective EASA and FAA type certification this summer—plus 300 flight hours for the A330-800 version.

Airbus launched the A330-900 and -800 simultaneously and the extra cost of developing the smaller -800 is negligible because the variants share 99 percent commonality. “They are twin aircraft and share the same design principles and final assembly line,” Hamilton pointed out. Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines power both versions. A derivative of the Trent 1000-Ten, itself an update with core technology from the Airbus A350’s Trent XWB engines, the Trent 7000 serves as A330neo’s sole powerplant. The neo’s two versions—the A330-800 and A330-900oo upgrades of the A330-200 and -300 respectively—can seat 257 and 287 passengers in a typical three-class configuration. The -800 offers capacity for up to 406 travelers in a high-density LCC configuration. The A330neo features new Airspace cabin amenities, allowing for up to 10 more seats than the A330ceo cabin can carry at equal seating and comfort standards. Other upgrades include a new larger-span wing with Sharklet wingtip devices, also based on A350 technology, new composite nacelle and a new ‘fully faired’ titanium pylon. At 64 meters, the wingspan is 4 meters longer than that of the A330ceo. Airbus is investing about $2 billion in the upgrade program.

To improve the A330neo’s attractiveness and accommodate demands from several unidentified customers, Airbus offers the aircraft with an increased maximum takeoff weight of 251 metric tons, up from 242 metric tons, enabling what it calls “true long-haul widebody operations.” The A330-800, at 251 metric tons, can fly up to 8,150 nm with full passenger load in a three-class configuration, while the A330-900 flies as far as 7,200 nm fully loaded, or another 650 nm compared to the respective standard A330neo variants. The new range “will open up new markets for our customers,” according to Hamilton. Airbus plans to offer the higher mtow A330neo as an option with EIS scheduled for 2020.