Airbus bides time over A330neo decision

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Airbus executives have dampened expectations of an A330neo launch at July’s Farnborough air show, stressing the airframer does not want to “rush into a decision”.

However, they insist that developing a re-engined version of the small widebody would be “relatively straightforward”.

Speaking at the two-day Airbus Innovation Days event in Toulouse, John Leahy, chief operating officer for customers, confirmed the board is “studying” a re-powered A330, but is concerned about “possible cannibalisation” of sales of the current A330 and smaller variants of the A350. “It may not happen by Farnborough,” he adds.

His colleague Kiran Rao, executive vice president of strategy and marketing, reiterates that a re-engined version of the twinjet is “not a done deal", adding: "It’s not a decision we will rush into.”

However, he says that a new version delivering expected fuel savings of up to 15% would require little work from the airframer beyond a “few aerodynamic clean-ups".

Rao says the lift-to-drag ratio on the A330's wing is already highly-optimised, and there is little room for improvement in the structure or the winglets.

"There's not much more we can do with a sharklet on the end of the wing to get more aerodynamic efficiency out of it," he says. "It’s at the stage where it doesn’t need a new wing. Engines will be the main contributor.”

Tom Williams, executive vice president of programmes, says structural changes would be limited to a reinforced wing, a new pylon and a new nacelle. “It’s a relatively straightforward exercise,” he says.

Although several potential customers have expressed their preference for a choice of engine, Airbus has not decided whether any A330neo powerplant would be sole-sourced or not.

Rolls-Royce’s recently-revealed Advanced concept variant of its Trent family or a version of Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan could be contenders, but Airbus is giving little away about negotiations with engine suppliers.

Williams says he is “talking to engine manufacturers all the time”, adding that airlines “like to have a choice [of engines], but there are a lot of decisions that have to be made before we get to an engine manufacturer decision”.

Airbus admits it was wrong about the longevity of the two-decade-old A330 programme, which has been selling strongly although the orderbook is shrinking. “All our predictions were wrong about the A330,” says Rao. "The [current] A330 still has a strong economic proposition.”

For short-range operations, he says, the A330 will "still do the job", adding: "That’s why [the A330neo is] not a slam-dunk decision. They want us to have the right price and to operate on short-range missions."

Airbus is upbeat about prospects for a high-density, short-range version of the A330, dubbed the A330 Regional, in the fast-growing Chinese market where the airframer is positioning it as a consolidator, replacing two narrowbodies on routes between congested airports.