Airbus is still discussing the merits of reengining the Airbus A330 as another complement to its widebody product portfolio. 

“It is an interesting idea, we go back and forth on it,” Airbus Chief Operating Officer Customers John Leahy said at the company’s Innovation Days in Toulouse. But so far the company does not appear to be very close to a decision, and Leahy hinted that it “may not happen by Farnborough.” One factor influencing the decision is to what extent the A330neo would cannibalize the A350. The smallest version of the family, the A350-800, may be most affected. But Airbus may well decide it can happily live without the -800.

Leahy also argues that while the Boeing 787 has around 1,000 nm more range, the A330neo could cover around 90% of routes and given the lower capital costs of the A330 “it will be a very interesting equation.”

And, according to Executive Vice President Strategy and Marketing Kiran Rao, the “A330neo is not a done deal.” As a strategic target for the A330 program, Airbus has laid out matching the 787’s fuel burn. “With the new engines you can do it,” Rao said. He believes that there are not a lot of improvements possible as far as wing modifications are concerned. “The lift to drag ratio on the A330 is 21; the wing is already highly optimized. An even more optimal wing could be at 22.” Rao could see Airbus doing some aerodynamic clean-ups if the aircraft were to be launched.

One strategy issue is still to be discussed. While there are significant efficiency improvements to be harnessed on longer stage lengths, Airbus has been marketing the current aircraft extensively for airlines that need a large capacity jet for shorter routes such as Chinese domestic services. But: “for 2-3 hour missions the A330ceos are still more efficient than a neo,” Rao pointed out. To him the launch is therefore ”not a slam-dunk decision.”

Technically, the project would be a “relatively straightforward exercise,” according to Airbus Executive Vice President-Programs Tom Williams. Among the changes needed to the aircraft are a strengthened wing and a new pylon to fit the new engine, which is likely to be built by Rolls-Royce. But Williams, too, cautions that Airbus would have to be convinced that the aircraft would be “powerful enough in the market for at least until the end of the next decade.

An extended production run would make the aircraft also a lot more attractive for leasing company which so far have been relatively skeptical. “If the market demands it, we can’t stand in the way,” AerCap CEO Angus Kelly told Aviation Week recently. “If we knew it was going to be built until 2030 that would change the equation.” He points at the development the A320neo has taken since its launch: “It was not a safe bet initially, but that has changed with the success.”