Airbus has formally launched the A330neo, a re-engined version of its oldest widebody in production. The aircraft is to deliver a 14% reduction in fuel burn per seat compared to the current aircraft. Airbus plans to deliver the first A330neo in the fourth quarter of 2017 following a development period of little more than three years.

The manufacturer is expected to announce up to around 100 launch orders for the aircraft throughout this week at the Farnborough Airshow. Over the past few months, representatives of airlines such as Delta, Air Asia X or Lufthansa as well as lessors such as CIT have been pushing Airbus to go ahead with the program, but Air Lease Corporation (ALC) became the first  customer to sign up for the aircraft.

ALC ordered 25 A330-900neos that are to be delivered from 2018. “There is a compelling price difference between the A330neo and any other wide-body aircraft,” ALC President and Chief Operating officer John Plueger said. ALC Chairman Steve Udvar-Hazy said he did not believe that “Boeing can close the pricing gap.” The A330neo will be Airbus’ product offering competing with the Boeing 787-8 and, to and -9.

In addition to the 25 A330neos, ALC also bought 60 A321neos.

Its launch also has significant consequences for the A350 family. The manufacturer looks set to finally drop the A350-800, which is down to only 34 orders. “I believe all of our customers will either convert to the A350-900 or the A330neo”, Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Bregier said. “The A330neo is the more efficient solution (compared to the A350-800).”

“The A330neo is the logical evolution of our reliable and versatile A330 Family,” he said. “We see strong market potential for the A330neo, and like its market-leading smaller sister, the A320neo, we are confident this new aircraft will be a success in the medium-haul segment. We are again leveraging a proven aircraft with a wide operator base and making it even more efficient with the latest innovations and technology developments.”

The new A330 family will be made up of the A330-800neo replacing the A330-200 and the A330-900neo replacing the A330-300. The aircraft are to be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines based on the Trent TEN, which has to be modified to incorporate a bleed air system. The aircraft will have an additional 400 nm in maximum range according to Airbus. But the company is arguing that for most long-haul routes the range capabilities of the Boeing 787 (and the A350 arguably) are not needed so that the A330neo will be able to cover about 90% of all missions.

In addition to the engines, the aircraft is to incorporate a new winglet, an increased wingspan and new engine pylons. Airbus will be introducing an upgraded cabin and avionics, too.

Airbus claims the A330-800neo will reach the same fuel burn per seat as the Boeing 787-8, and the A330-900neo will be as efficient as the 787-9. “We are able to do it in 3.5 years because we can take an off-the-shelf engine,” Bregier pointed out. “I also want a more agile Airbus that is faster in decision making.”

According to Airbus Chief Operating Officer Customers John Leahy, the -800 will have a range of 7,450 nm and seat 252 passengers. Its maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is unchanged from the latest A330ceo version (242 tons). The -900 will have an identical MTOW and seat 310 passengers. Its range is 6,200 nm. Airbus figures suggest that the -900 range will be around 1,300 nm shorter than the 787-9 while the -800 will have around 400 nm more range than the 787-8. Boeing numbers are different.

Of the 14% fuel burn improvement per seat, 11% are coming from the engine and another 4% are taken from aerodynamic improvements and the wing extension, which is now 3.7 meters longer (64 meters) than the current model’s wing. An additional 2% in efficiency are gained by a different cabin layout that will allow airlines to add 6-10 more seats. There are also some penalties to be counteracted, 1% because of increased drag (the fan diameter is up from 97 to 112 inches) and 2% because of the additional weight. The Trent 7000 engine bypass ratio is planned to be at 10:1.

There will be no changes to the center wing box, but the wing will be extended, twisted and strengthened to handle the 5 tons in additional weight
Airbus argues that the A330neo will be able to cover 93% of all long range missions in spite of its range limitations. “Around 75-80% of all long-haul missions are up to eight hours,” ALC’s Hazy said.

Airbus is confident it will be able to keep up A330 production rates through the transition, but it still needs “a couple of hundred orders” for the current version to be able to do so. While the A330neo will be introduced at the end of 2017, the A330ceo will continue to be in production until the end of 2019. Airbus is building what is currently its only profitable wide-body product at a rate of 10 aircraft per month.

Bregier is still cautious when it comes to potentially re-engining the A380. “We don’t intend to launch an A380neo soon, but we don’t say we will never do it. We still have time.”