Airbus's regional variant of the A330-300 will be structurally identical to its baseline model, but with changes made to its cabin to allow for a reduced maximum take-off weight.

At the Aviation Expo in Beijing, where it launched the variant, Airbus said the aircraft’s MTOW will be reduced to 205t from the standard 235t, and its range cut to 3,000nm.

Its engines will also be de-rated, although it could not immediately indicate how much its thrust would be lowered. The majority of the changes will, however, be made to the jet’s cabin, cutting down on galley space and crew rest areas to put in more seats.

A standard A330-300 has some 300 seats. With the change, 56 seats can be added to the lower-weight variant.

“We don’t intend to change the airframe. But we optimise it by changing the cabin to set up more seats, less galleys, de-rate the engine, optimise it for a 200t aircraft,” says Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier. “But in 10 years’ time, if the airline wants to move [the aircraft] to long range, this is also possible. Flexibility is essential.”

Bregier adds that the A330 has an average dispatch reliability of 99.4%, similar to that of a single-aisle aircraft.

“This is absolutely essential when we talk about domestic and regional routes where you have no time to fix issues at remote airports. This will take years for our competitors to achieve the same level of performance,” he says.

Airbus China president Eric Chen explains that, unlike the A350 and the Boeing 787, which were built for longer-haul routes, the A330 was initially designed for short- and medium-haul operations.

“When a long-range aircraft is placed on short haul, the economics will go up 10%. In that context an A330-300 domestic cost per seat will remain competitive over the next 20 to 30 years,” he says.

Airbus adds that the lower-weight variant will be especially suited for the China market because of the shortage in pilots, airport congestion, as well as strong traffic growth. With a lower maintenance cost and more seats, Airbus is expecting an overall cost reduction of up to 15%.

“The operating cost of the aircraft will match the performance per seat of the best-in-class future single aisle aircraft, but carry twice the number of passengers,” says Bregier.

Airbus has yet to secure a firm order for the variant, but aims to do so with a launch customer from China by early 2014. Besides China, it also expects the aircraft to be suited for use in India, the Middle East and south-east Asia.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news