Airbus chief salesman John Leahy admitted yesterday that even he was taken by surprise by the remarkable resurgence in sales this year of the company’s Airbus A330 product line.
The company has already committed to increasing A330/A340 production to nine per month by 2009 and it is likely to hit an all-time high of 10 per month. The move has been fuelled by an influx of commitments for the A330, led by Hong Kong Airlines’ memorandum of understanding for 20 aircraft and AirAsia X’s order for 15.
Other A330 customers this year include Lufthansa, Egyptair, BMI, Thai Airways, Aeroflot and lessors like ILFC and AerCap. There have also been big deals for the A330-200F freighter.
Leahy says the trend has been driven by increased use of the aircraft to provide more capacity on regional routes. He believes that the same phenomenon will eventually emerge on Chinese domestic routes as the country’s airlines use larger aircraft to overcome infrastructure constraints.
He says: “We were surprised at needing to go to 8-10 aircraft per month. Now we understand what is happening. I think we will keep the A330 at 10 per month for a long while.” The A330, he claims, competes well with the Boeing 787 for carriers focusing on capacity because although “it will burn a little more fuel” it is cheaper to acquire and provides as many as 30 more seats per aircraft.
Asked about the ability of Chinese and Indian infrastructure and personnel numbers to cope with the predicted strong growth in traffic, Leahy says: “You can always limit growth with infrastructure problems. But if anything I think it will be at the lower end of the market first.
“For example in ?xml:namespace>India and China it is inevitable, but in that situation you attempt to move the most people that you can. So you can move more people with bigger aircraft and need fewer pilots and air traffic controllers. In China you will see the growth in the number of seats remaining the same but a move towards larger aircraft – perhaps more A321s and A330s.”
Leahy also confirms that Airbus is continuing to study the feasibility of a freighter version of the A330-300 at the urging of the parcel carriers, and says that is the next likely development of the family.
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