One of the biggest leasing customers of the A330 is urging Airbus to press ahead with a “neo” version of the widebody – but warns that the airframer must “act quickly” to exploit the limited availability of the Boeing 787 and Airbus’s own A350.
Jeff Knittel, president of transportation and international finance at New York-based CIT – which has ordered more than 50 A330s – says there is “a long list” of airlines which “require an aircraft of this size” in the next few years.
However, the firm is warning that Toulouse must take a decision “in the next six months” in order to achieve an entry into service of 2017 or 2018. Any later, and Airbus will fail to “capitalise on the limited availability of the 787 and A350”.
Speaking at ISTAT Americas in San Diego, Knittel hinted strongly that CIT would be prepared to launch the variant, which he said would likely have a sole-sourced new engine as well as a strengthened wing and landing gear. “It’s a natural evolution,” he said.
However, Airbus remains cool on the potential of a re-engined A330, publically at least. In a session at ISTAT on 17 March, Andrew Shankland, senior vice president leasing markets, insisted that Airbus’s priority in the smaller widebody market remains the -800 version of the A350, which is losing orders as customers switch to larger -900 and -1000 variants.
“There has been a lot of discussion on A330 re-engining except in Toulouse,” he says. “We have a family of three A350s, with 45 or so orders for -800.”
He also says that the A330 is selling strongly. “Don’t forget that last year we delivered more A330s than any widebody in history,” he says.
Steve Mason, vice president aircraft analysis at CIT, says new engines and aerodynamic improvements, such as winglets, could extend the A330’s range by about 10%. Although new engines are heavier than existing A330 engines and would require extensive wing reinforcements, he says Airbus’s experience in strengthening thewings of the A330 and A340 previously would make it less of a headache for engineers.
CIT is not pushing for a particular engine on a revamped A330. All three major manufacturers offer powerplants for both -200 and -300 variants of the existing widebody. While Knittel will not predict a potential market size for a re-engined A330 he believes that there would not be enough sales to justify an engine choice.
He says that Airbus might not go ahead with a new version of the A330 if “there is some engineering decision that we have not seen that makes it unviable”.