Airbus is likely to make a decision on whether to move forward with a re-engined A330 by the middle of 2014, says Airbus Americas president Barry Eccleston.
A decision on the aircraft, dubbed the A330neo, is needed in order to ensure that it is competitive with the Boeing 787 but does not erode sales of the European airframer’s own A350 when it enters service, he says at the Phoenix International Aviation Symposium on 4 April.
That entry-into-service window is widely understood to be in the 2017 or 2018 timeframe when there is limited availability of A350s and 787s, based on comments from various lessors and lenders at the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) Americas conference in March.
Airline interest will play a large role in Airbus’ decision, says Eccleston.
“There are airlines that are receptive to an A330neo that aren’t going to order the [A350]-800,” said Steven Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of Air Lease Corporation, at ISTAT. “Some of them have been converted to the [A350]-900, but the [A330]neo is getting more attention and we will have to see what happens.”
While not naming any carriers, he said: “There is one large US airline that’s, I think, very interested in the re-engined A330. They have a large number of ageing [Boeing] 767s and 747-400s that they need to do something [about] in the next five years.”
Delta Air Lines released a request for proposals for up 50 widebody aircraft to replace its 747-400s and a significant number of its 767-300ERs earlier in April. It is evaluating the A330-200 and -300, A350-900 and -1000, Boeing 777-300ER and 787-8, -9 and -10 with an order possible in the second half of 2014.
The Atlanta-based carrier says that it is only considering aircraft currently available in the market under the RFP but does not specifically rule out a possible A330neo.
Asian carriers, especially in China, and major European carriers could also be A330neo customers, said Steve Mason, vice-president of aircraft analysis at CIT Aerospace, at ISTAT. They are expected to need additional 250- to 300-seat aircraft between 2018 and 2021 than are currently available, he said.
The A330neo would likely include a new engine as well as other upgrades.
“If we did it, we’d probably be looking to upgrade the engine technology to what we see in the 787 today,” says Eccleston on potential upgrades to the existing A330. “We’d do other things to the airplane as well, if we did it – some aerodynamic tweaks, a sharklet maybe.”
The 787 is powered by either General Electric GEnx or Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines.