A Neo pretender

This first appeared as a Comment in the 21 January issue of Flight International

Having served its purpose admirably the Airbus A330 was supposed to fly quietly into the sunset, as the A350 emerged to take on the Boeing 787. The mid-size queen is dead, long live the king: a clear ­succession plan for the crown, to which the A330 is steadfastly refusing to comply.
The runaway success of the A320neo’s re-engining has further clouded the matter. Apply winning formula X to successful aircraft Y, and the result is a sure-fire hit. Isn’t it?
If this was the same situation, perhaps. But the A320neo is not competing against an all-new aircraft. And it’s two years ahead of its re-engined rival. A ­re-engined A330 would be battling the 787, a contest which Airbus fought on paper back in 2005 and ­concluded it would ultimately lose.
Re-engining would bring complexity to a ­programme which is benefiting from simplicity. There is no question that an ‘A330neo’ would sell. The ­question is whether it would sell enough, for long enough, to justify heavy investment and a five-year wait. The A330’s longevity, fuelled by 787 delays, is defying expectation – but that simply makes prediction of future market appeal more difficult.
Airbus hardly seems enthusiastic about the prospect. Having proclaimed the A350 as the heir apparent, it probably doesn’t want a pretender to the throne.

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