Regional A330 takes twinjet back to its roots

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Airbus’s tailoring of the A330-300 for high-intensity, high-capacity shuttle operations is reminiscent of Boeing’s adaptation of the 747-100 for the short-haul Japanese market.

But while Boeing had to reinforce the 747 to create the short-range 747SR, Airbus head of twin-aisle marketing Crawford Hamilton points out that early A330s were operating sectors such as Hong Kong-Taipei and Toulouse-Paris.

“[The A330] was really, at the start, designed around this kind of requirement,” he says. “That robustness has always remained in the background.”

As a result the aircraft will not need structural changes but will instead be operationally configured for the regional sector. Cockpit avionics will be modified, in particular to assist with the higher numbers of landings generated by short-haul services.

Airbus will fit head-up displays, increase precision navigation capabilities to aid flight in dense airspace, and provide runway overrun protection systems.

“We’re spending a fair bit on development,” says Hamilton. “We’re trying to address all the levers that can be pulled.”

To prolong the life of the engines Airbus plans to derate the powerplants. While the limit has yet to be finalised, Hamilton points out that thrust levels on early A330 variants were around 64,000lb.

Airbus has developed 21 weight variants of the A330-300, including 205t versions and even a 184t option. But Hamilton says the new regional variant aims to take advantage of the latest production standard, and capabilities including the higher zero-fuel weight.

The aircraft’s development will be undertaken in parallel to the 242t version, and enter service in early 2015 – slightly ahead of the higher-weight jet.

Airbus believes the type will appeal to the Chinese market, in particular, and provide economic advantages through a higher-density cabin and lower airport and air navigation charges.

“These operations are all about making money, and lowering costs,” says Hamilton.

The A330-300 is certificated to carry up to 440 passengers. Cebu Pacific of the Philippines has a single-class layout for 436. While customers will dictate interior layouts for the regional variant, Airbus says it is aiming at the 400-seat market.

Five years ago Airbus also indicated that it would offer a reduced-weight version of the new A350, including an engine derate, for medium-haul operations. Singapore Airlines signed up to take a lower-weight version of the A350-900 earlier this year.