Airbus to make A330neo decision this year

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Airbus says it will clarify its position on the A330 sometime this year, even as it works towards entry into service of its A350 and final assembly of its A320neo in the same period.

Speaking to Flightglobal in Busan on the sidelines of the delivery of its 1000th sharklet from Korean Air's aerospace division, Tom Williams, Airbus' executive vice president of programmes, says evaluations are ongoing and a decision has not been made on whether it will chase performance tweaks or re-engine the A330.

"To put new engines on the wings, it's a big job. It's not a decision you're going to make quickly or easily. It's a significant engineering task," he says.

Williams explains that fitting new engines would likely require the wing to be reinforced, design a new nacelle and pylon, and integration with the landing gear, resulting in another set of flight tests.

He adds that making small tweaks to optimise the aircraft could also bring about "pretty good improvements",

"We're not going to go back to the same situation with the original A350, where we got into a loop chasing weight, then went into the carbon wing. We're not going to be doing anything like that (for the A330), that's not on the agenda," he says.

On whether a decision to re-engine the aircraft would also mean giving customers engine options, Williams hinted that the airframer would look to an exclusive engine deal saying he "likes simplicity". The economics however would determine whether it is worthwhile to offer engine options, and the engine makers also need to be interested the programme.

Asked whether a revamped A330 would likely be fitted with sharklets, Williams says that since the widebody already has a wing tip device, the benefits of attaching a sharklet would be relatively small. Sources from KAL-ASD, the sole supplier of sharklets for the A320 family, however say it is extremely interested in being involved, and is already at the concept stage of designing a sharklet for the widebody, even as it awaits Airbus' decision.

Williams believes that there is still a "very good market" for the A330, especially for operators who do not need the range of the A350 or Boeing 787, because of its cheaper pricetag. The aim is thus to make the A330 compatible with the A350 offering.

"We think there is an opportunity to keep flying the A330 alongside the A350 for quite a period of time. We don't see it as a case where the A350 comes in and suddenly the A330 disappears. We think we can keep building the A330s, certainly through this decade," says Williams.

He stressed however that as the planned entry into service of the A350 and the A320neo final assembly are coming up "very shortly", there are no "shortages of priorities" for Airbus. The airframer also has to deliver the first 242t A330 to Delta Air Lines next May, and has launched a regional A330 targeted at the Chinese market.

"I think it would be good if we can get some clarity this year. But I don't think we need to do more than that. At the moment the A330 order book is good enough and we're not in any mad rush to make any decisions," says Williams.