Airbus is confident it no longer needs a large Airbus A330 order from China to be able to sustain the new rate of six per month, according to Executive Vice President Procurement Klaus Richter.

“2016 is looking very good already,” Richter told Aviation Week at the Paris air show. Any order from China would likely lead Airbus to add one or two aircraft to the monthly output. Airbus currently has a backlog of 174 A330ceos – A330-200s, -300s and –Fs – and is on its way to slow production from ten aircraft per month to six ahead of the transition from the A330ceo to the A330neo. Not all of the aircraft on backlog will be delivered between now and the arrival of the neo. The first reengined version of the aircraft is to be delivered at the end of 2017. Filling gaps in the production line of the current version has been a key concern for the manufacturer.

Airbus made progress in solving the problem after Saudi Arabian Airlines placed an order for 20 A330-300 Regionals. Saudia will be launch operator of the aircraft, according to Airbus. The manufacturer has been trying to market it particularly as a model for the Chinese domestic market and has been in discussions with China to set up an A330 completion center in return for a large A330 order. That order has been under negotiation for almost two years and original plans were scaled down when Airbus decided to launch the A330neo. China could still order more A330s (ceos and neos), but is no longer expected to place the large order of around 200 aircraft that once was talked about.

Richter said it was important for Airbus to get to a sustainable A330ceo production rate even without further commitments from China to reduce dependence on that single large customer. The Saudia order and potential further announcements at the Paris air show will also improve Airbus’ negotiating position vis-à-vis the Chinese government as far as the completion center is concerned.

With A330neo entry-into-service now expected in just over two years, Airbus is also firming up plans to introduce a new and upgraded interior. “We are trying to get to a family look with the A350,” Tom Williams, Chief Operating Officer said. The cabin will be equipped with new and larger bins that look similar to what is already on board the A350. As part of the Spaceflex initiative, monuments are shifted around or moved to the lower deck to allow for the addition of another 1-2 seat rows which would give Airbus around 16 additional economy class seats. According to Williams, the changed cabin will be introduced with the first A330neo at the end of 2017. Talks with suppliers about how to achieve the relatively quick transition are ongoing.