Airbus has launched higher-gross-weight versions of the A330-300 and A330-200 in an effort to capture more key long-range markets previously outside the aircraft’s range.

Airbus Chief Commercial Officer-Customers John Leahy says he is already in discussions with two airlines and one leasing company about an order for the new version, which is offered as an option.

Several airlines, among them Malaysia Airlines, have pushed Airbus to increase the aircraft’s range and payload capabilities. Leahy says that with 400 nm of added range, the A330 can now serve markets up to 5,950 miles (9.575 km), which enables airlines to offer nonstop services in key business markets, such as London to Tokyo, Shanghai, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

To enable the range increase, Airbus is working on several fronts. The maximum takeoff weight for the A330-300 is raised from 235 tons to 240 tons, but for the A330-200 the change is smaller–from 238 to 240 tons. That weight increase is achieved with very limited change to the wing structure, so that the empty weight of the aircraft does not rise. For the first time, Airbus is using a load alleviation function that allows the ailerons to move to compensate for higher loads during turbulence. That function enables Airbus to leave the wing essentially unchanged.

Airbus previously analyzed the structural margins of the wing and was able to build on work for the A330-200F.

An aerodynamic improvement package that reshapes the inboard slat and shortens the flap fairings is expected to lead to a 1% improvement in fuel burn; Airbus expects engine makers to achieve another 1%.

The manufacturer has decided against using A320-style sharklets–or wing tip devices–because they would have required more significant changes to the wing.

Airbus is now entering the detailed design phase following preliminary studies. The high-gross-weight A330-300 is planned to enter service in 2015, although Leahy says airlines are pressuring him to have it ready by the start of 2015. The A330-200 is expected to enter service about half a year later.

Leahy says the initial A330-300 introduced in 1994 covered about 65% of the Boeing 777-200ER markets because of its much-reduced range. He claims that the latest version will be able to fly 94% of the 777-200ER missions. “It is the perfect replacement for the 777-200ER and the A340-300,” Leahy believes. “And there are a lot of 777s and 340s to be replaced.”

Airbus’ chief salesman claims that the 240-ton A330-300 version has only a 1% cash operating cost disadvantage over the Boeing 787-8 and a 6% disadvantage over the 787-9. When capital costs are included, he argues that the A330 is 10% more economical than the -8 and 4% better than the -9. Leahy also says the aircraft has a 16% fuel burn advantage over the 777-200ER. He points out that the A330 backlog stands at 169 aircraft, while the 777-200ER currently has 11 aircraft remaining to be produced.