Re-engined A330 gives Airbus 250-seat stake: Ascend

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Airbus will be unable to compete in the 250-seat segment in future without offering a re-engined version of its A330, according to new research from Flightglobal’s consultancy arm Ascend.

However, the report notes, it is uncertain whether the operating economics and the likely timing of entry into service for a Neo variant of the twinjet would be sufficient to tempt airlines away from the Boeing 787 family.

“Whether or not to ‘Neo’ the A330 has been one of the hottest industry topics over the past few months,” says Rob Morris, head of consultancy at Ascend.

“Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database shows the market sector for the A330neo in the 250- to 300-seat market is potentially lucrative and one in which Airbus already has a healthy customer footprint,” says Morris.

Flightglobal’s Fleet Forecast for 2014-33 predicts deliveries of 6,928 twin-aisle aircraft including just over 4,000 in the 200- to 300-seat category, the typical configuration for the A330.

“For an airframer with the desire to offer airliners in every segment from 100 to over 600 seats, completely ignoring this market is impossible,” says Morris.

Airbus has delivered 1,088 A330s since the first example entered service around 20 years ago. There are 975 passenger A330s in active service including 597 in the fleet of 72 airlines that neither operate, nor have ordered, the rival Boeing 787.

“Without re-engining, the current A330 will remain the only Airbus aircraft specifically for the 250-seat segment and, until A350-800 marketing restarts, essentially the airframer’s only offering in the 250- to 300-seat band,” he adds. “Airbus’s record production rate on the A330 equates to a two-year backlog but it is unlikely that the A330 will be able to maintain its competitiveness against the 787 without a change of strategy.”

Morris suggests that Airbus could potentially tackle the competitive threat by addressing the seat mile costs of the A330-300. These, he says, need to be comparable with those of 787-9 – with overall seat-mile economics, including cost of ownership, being key.

Airbus pitched the A330 initially as a high-capacity regional aircraft but its range has been increased over 20 years of development. But while range is touted as an attractive feature, Flightglobal Ascend fleet and Innovata schedules data puts the situation into context. Over 95% of twin-engined long-haul aircraft services are within 6,000nm.

“This suggests a strong potential market for a 250- to 300-seat aircraft capable of exceeding the direct operating cost of the 787-9 even if it is unable to compete with the 787’s range,” says Morris.

“The A330neo could potentially offer the right mix of fuel-burn reduction and lower acquisition cost to give Airbus a weapon in the 250-seat battle. Less clear is whether the economics and timing will be sufficient to sway customers from the 787 this time round,” concludes Morris.

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