How has the latest long-range A330 performed since its entry into service?

Andrew Doyle/ZURICH Max Kingsley-Jones/LUTON Paul Lewis/WASHINGTON DC


In its latest market forecast, Airbus Industrie predicts that 210/250-seaters like the A330-200 will make up one-fifth of the 14,800 new aircraft to be delivered over the next 20 years. The A330-200 is thus destined to be a key member of the consortium's widebody product line in the coming years. Flight International has canvassed the launch operators for their experiences during its first period of operations.

Launched in November 1995 as a longer-range short-fuselage derivative of the 335-seat A330-300, the new model immediately rejuvenated the sales fortunes of Airbus' big twinjet. After a flurry of sales following the A330's launch in the late 1980s, orders for the -300 slowed. By the mid-1990s, Airbus identified a key emerging market to resurrect the twinjet's flagging sales and, by trading capacity for range, created an A330 variant with the size and performance to replace ageing long-range trijets - primarily the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30. It also gave Airbus its first direct competitor to the Boeing 767-300ER, and later prompted Boeing to launch a larger version, the -400ER.

The A330-200 is shortened by 5.3m (17ft), or 10 fuselage frames (six frames forward between doors one and two, and four aft between doors three and four), and features a larger tailfin to counter the reduced-moment arm. The fuselage reduction lowers typical two-class capacity from 335 to 293, and three-class from 295 to 253. Like the A330-300, the aircraft is offered with variants of all of the big three engine manufacturers' powerplants - the General Electric CF6-80E1A4, Pratt & Whitney PW4168A and Rolls-Royce Trent 772B - rated at 68,800-71,200lb (306-316kN) thrust.

Other changes over the baseline A330-300 include the strengthened wing structure of the high gross weight A340-300, to increase maximum take-off weight to 230t, and a centre fuel tank to take its total capacity to 139,100 litres (36,700USgal).

These changes let the A330-200 carry its 253 passenger specification payload and their baggage over a distance of 12,000km (6,500nm). A detailed technical description of the A330-200 and cutaway drawing was published in Flight International 11-17 June, 1997.

International Lease Finance (ILFC) was the first customer to commit, signing an order for 15 aircraft in early 1996. The new model has continued to sell well, with total orders now standing at 120 aircraft. The -200 has thus seen the most successful Airbus widebody twinjet in recent times, outselling its larger sister at the ratio of almost 3 to 1.

The GE-powered version was the lead A330-200 model, with the first example flown in August 1997. European Joint Aviation Authorities and US Federal Aviation Administration approval were received simultaneously in March last year, and the GE-powered model entered service with Canada 3000 in May of that year on lease from launch customer ILFC. The first P&W version was delivered to Austrian Airlines in August 1998, while Air Transat received the first R-R-powered version on lease from ILFC last February.

Swissair - largest fleet


Swissair took delivery of its first Pratt & Whitney PW4168A-powered A330-200 in September last year and is now the largest operator of the model, with 12 in service. The total fleet will number 16 aircraft by the second quarter of 2001.

The airline selected the A330-200 in December 1996 for its medium-capacity long-haul requirements following a joint evaluation with its alliance partners Sabena and Austrian Airlines (the latter having since severed its links with Swissair). Swissair's status as a major launch customer enabled it to heavily influence the aircraft's design and avoid deviation from the basic specification, explains SR Technics A330 fleet manager Felix Ammann. "Overall, we quite strictly followed the standard definition of the aircraft," he says. Swissair maintenance subsidiary SR Technics is responsible for supporting and maintaining the airline's A330s.

Swissair, Austrian and Sabena selected the PW4168A to power their aircraft because of SR Technics' extensive experience in maintaining the PW4000, which powers the Swiss carrier's Boeing MD-11s. The maintenance company had already overhauled some PW4168spowering the A330-300s operated by LTU of Germany by the time the A330-200 entered service.

The Swiss airline had a demanding pilot training schedule for the new aircraft, although the process was eased by the fact that all of the A330 flightcrews have been cross-qualified from the A320 family, which features an identical flightdeck. "With one new aircraft coming every month we had to train a large number of pilots from the very beginning," says Swissair A320/A330 chief pilot Marco Müller.

Again, Swissair turned to an associate carrier already operating A330-300s, in the shape of Belgian flag carrier and fellow Qualiflyer Group member Sabena. Four Swissair training captains worked as line pilots on Sabena A330s for four months before Swissair's first A330-200 arrived.

Swissair has 650 pilots rated on the A320family, of which 320 will have been rated on the A330 and entered the mixed fleet flying (MFF) pilot pool by the end of this year, according to Müller. This will rise to 450 next year. New pilots coming onto the A320 fleet will fly the type for a year and a half before being rated on the A330 as well, he adds.

Swissair pilots log around 50% of their annual duty days on narrowbodies and 50% on the widebody, says Müller. This is because the A330s fly longer sectors on average and require nine crews per aircraft compared with 4.5 for the A320.

Swissair says it has been satisfied with the quality of the A330s it has received so far. "We were really happy with the first aircraft," says Ammann. "Everything was finished and ready for operation." He adds that the trend has continued with the exception of "some" minor glitches. The A330 fleet's dispatch "was always above 98%", says Ammann. "It is 99% every week. We did not expect it to be so reliable."

By the end of August, the Swissair A330 fleet was recording a daily usage approaching 13.5h, with average sector length running at 4-5h.

A major problem for Swissair, along with other A330/A340 operators, has been the 60° nose-gear steering limitation (see The manufacturers' view). It hopes that the maximum steering angle can be increased to at least 72° . This limitation has led to some difficulties at airports, particularly in Africa, where there was insufficient space for the pilot to turn the aircraft around at the end of runways.

Careful planning

The situation has since been partially alleviated, because most potential troublespots have been identified - so that careful planning can reduce the risk of an aircraft becoming stranded by a lack of turning space. "We were very unhappy with Airbus about that, but now we've realised that it's not such a big problem if you have warning in advance," says Müller. "With 60° we are limited to the 51m [runway width] that you need for a 180° turn."

However, a second, more serious, problem has emerged with the landing gear, which is causing concern to SR Technics. It relates to leakage of the hydraulic seals mounted on the Messier-Dowty-manufactured main landing gear legs. "Almost every day we have an aircraft out of service because of shock absorber leakage," says Ammann. Each repair requires the aircraft to be taken out of service for 24-30h. "We do not accept such consequences," he says. "They now have a new seal available, but this is already the second or third seal - the improvement was just not there." The 11 A330-200s in service with Swissair have experienced a combined eight failures, Ammann estimates.

SR Technics is monitoring the seal leakage rate and trying to predict failures so that a replacement can be fitted in time. Ammann reckons that the downtime and repair work cost around $60 per flight hour per aircraft. "It's not just a technical issue - there are high, high costs involved," he says. "If the seal is much better, the cost will come down dramatically."

A minor problem concerned the auxiliary power unit, where ice could build up in the inlet and detach, resulting in turbine blade damage. "It's not a major issue at the moment," says Ammann.

An extended range twin-engine operations (ETOPS)requirement to sump water from the wing fuel tanks has also caused difficulties, although this relates to the type of fuel used by specific airlines. Airbus says that this problem is unique to the fuel source and its quality, and has worked with Swissair to have the drain interval extended.

Initially, this had to be performed on each aircraft every seven days, requiring about 10h of downtime. The interval has been extended to A-level maintenance checks, equivalent to 500 flight hours, or about four weeks. The operation takes several hours because of the requirement to allow the wings to reach ambient temperature before the water can be removed from the tanks.

A high number of failures of the cargo handling system's control unit has also caused concern. The failures - of which Swissair has experienced 15 - are caused by the unit being overpowered. "We still have a problem with that," says Ammann. "We sometimes have to load or offload cargo manually." An upgraded control unit is expected to become available early next year. The lens in the tail logo light is also being re-designed, to ensure that the enlarged fin of the A330-200 is clearly illuminated during night-time operations.

The Matsushita System 2000E in-flight entertainment (IFE) system has caused some reliability problems, although the situation is improving. "It's more or less reliable, but we need many, many replacement parts," says Ammann. Swissair has heard reports from other A330/A340 operators about additional leakage problems with water and hydraulic systems that have occurred three to four years after service entry, and it is preparing to deal with these if necessary.

Despite the teething problems, Ammann and Müller emphasise that, overall, Swissair is happy with the service entry of the A330-200, and points out that maintenance costs are expected to be substantially lower compared with other widebody types - particularly the Boeing MD-11.

Monarch - long haul charters


London Luton-based charter carrier Monarch Airlines received its two Trent-powered A330-200s in March and April, becoming the third operator of this version of the twinjet after Air Transat and Emirates. The two 374-seat aircraft are operated on the airline's long-haul charter network, alongside its single DC-10-30, from Gatwick and Manchester to points in the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and destinations in the Indian Ocean.

The A330-200's selection followed an evaluation which included the 767-300ER, and secondhand DC-10-30s. Captain Mike Poole, the airline's operations director, says that the R-R Trent/A330-200 combination was chosen because it offered the best "overall commercial and financial package, and long-term residual value prospects".

After a few weeks operating "local" flights within Europe from Gatwick and Manchester to destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Tenerife to build experience, the airline completed its first revenue R-R/A330-200 ETOPS mission across the Atlantic to Orlando, Florida, on 3 April.

"We've been very pleased with the aircraft to date," says Poole, adding that the aircraft and engines have met or bettered the manufacturers' performance guarantees. Key areas of concern so far include the nosegear turning limitations (see The manufacturers' view) cited by Swissair, a manufacturing fault with the autoclaving of the carbonfibre fin box, undercarriage shock absorber leaks and life limits on a Trent component.

The reduced turning angle has been a headache for Monarch's operational planning. "It hasn't yet prevented us from flying anywhere we wanted to, but that is more down to luck," says Poole. "A tow bar has been carried in the hold all summer just in case we have any unforeseen difficulties."

Although regular operations from Monarch's Luton base had not been part of the airline's plan for the type, the aircraft cannot operate into the airport because of the restriction. A320/A321/A330 fleet manager Capt Dave Stealey explains that careful planning is needed whenever studies are made for operations into a new airport, or to one where there is "work in progress". He says: "For example, when runway 'work in progress' restricts the turning circle at one end, this will mean we cannot use the full length, and so we have to ensure that we can comfortably make an intersection take-off."


Although it is impossible for the flightcrew to exceed the 60° limit from the cockpit, there are only visual warnings for tug drivers. One incident has already resulted, involving a Monarch A330 being towed at Montego Bay, Jamaica, with the requirement that the undercarriage legs undergo a lengthy non-destructive test inspection within four flight cycles.

Monarch has not yet been officially informed of details of a long-term resolution, but has all but accepted that the original maximum nose gear angle of 78° will not be re-instated.

Like other carriers, Monarch has suffered problems with leaky seals on the main landing gear (MLG) oleo shock absorber. Replacing the shock absorber is a lengthy task and, in Monarch's case, required the gear to be removed from the aircraft and sent back to Messier Dowty for repair.

"There is a secondary seal which can be brought into play if the primary fails," says Stealey. "After a problem with one of the aircraft, we activated the secondary seal, but decided to have the whole thing replaced anyway as it would have caused problems if the seal had failed away from base," he adds.

Monarch's concerns about the relatively low life limit of the Trent 772B's compressor barrels are being addressed by the manufacturer. The airline has engines from a batch of 35 which incorporated barrels made from a new material, and were originally lifed to just 2,500 cycles - which has since been increased to 2,700 cycles. R-R says that it has switched back to original material standard for the barrels, and the affected engines will be modified to original standard next year. "This was a concern because we only have a limited supply of spare engines," says Poole, who is encouraged by R-R's efforts to increase the limits.

Manufacturing fault

A manufacturing fault with the fin's autoclaving affected an entire batch of A320s, A330s and A340s, including one of Monarch's A321s and both its A330s. The long-term fix, which is required to overcome problems with the bonding, is to install additional rivets. Monarch says that the problem may add to its maintenance burden in the long term if any routine work is required on the fins.

"The number and position of rivets is specific to each aircraft," says Stealey, "and therefore requires each aircraft to have individual procedures included in its maintenance manual, which complicates matters." One of Monarch's A330s was modified before delivery, while the other is yet to be repaired.

The airline has been an established Airbus fly-by-wire (FBW) flightdeck user for six years, operating single-aisle A320s since 1993. Monarch has eight A320/A321s, and the airline also flies four A300-600Rs, seven Boeing 757-200s and its single DC-10.

Monarch has recently begun to pool crews from the smaller aircraft into an A320/A330 MFF group. "We will eventually run with twice as many A330-rated crews as we need. They will fly half the time on the short-haul fleet, and the other half on long haul with the A330," says Stealey. Pilots transferring to the widebody twinjet have been impressed with the larger aircraft's handling and performance, he says. "It's a hot ship with much better performance than the A320," says Stealey.

The A330 has also proved to be an easy aircraft to load, with its generous centre of gravity (cg) limits. "Compared to the A300-600R, which is very cg critical, you can chuck payload anywhere," says Stealey.

"Airbus has been progressively improving the comfort of its [FBW] flightdeck, and noise levels are lower on the A330 than earlier models," says Stealey. This is due primarily to the suppressing of cockpit air conditioning and cooling unit noise, he adds. "The FMC [flight management computer] also has a few extra functions, which makes life easier, but, otherwise, flying one type is much the same as any of the other [FBW] ones," says Stealey.

Monarch's A330s have been recording a dispatch reliability of 97%, which Poole concedes should ideally be "a little bit higher". In mitigation, he points out that it is a new type and that the airline's small fleet makes relatively few departures, meaning that any glitches can have a major impact on the dispatch rate.

Monarch's forward "Premium" cabin features Matsushita System 2000E IFE in-seat personal video screens, while the main cabin has overhead monitors. Poole says that the system has been "as reliable as we dared hope".

Canada 3000's experience


Canada 3000 chose the A330-200 to expand its long-haul charter services, and the Toronto-based airline signed a lease deal in August 1996 with ILFC for three GE-powered aircraft plus an option on a fourth. The deal made it the launch operator for the A330-200, receiving its first in April last year. It now has all three in service, with the fourth aircraft firmed up and due next May.

The A330s are operated in a single-class, 340-seat configuration (76cm/30in pitch) on charter services to the South Pacific. The twinjet's long legs are used to fly from Toronto and Vancouver to Honolulu, Fiji, Sydney, Auckland and the Cook Islands. The A330 is also deployed on flights to London from Calgary, Toronto to Montreal, Gatwick to Montreal and Calgary to Edmunton-Cancun.

Canada 3000 has operated the A320 on its short/medium-haul network since 1993, and has five in service, giving it considerable experience of the Airbus FBW flightdeck. The airline makes the most of the two families' commonality, with all of 90 A330 pilots cross-qualified in an A320/A330 MFF pilot pool.

The airline's inaugural flight with the A330-200, from Toronto to Vancouver, was interrupted when the flightcrew received a low-oil warning from one of its CF6-80E1A4 engines, and diverted to Winnipeg. The problem was traced to an oil leak in the D-sump which acts as a reservoir for the number four bearing, and required the very low-time engine to be removed.

GE instructed all of its A330 operators to inspect their engines, and plans to offer an upgrade to all CF6/A330 operators in a two-year programme beginning next year (see The manufacturers' view).

Canada 3000 says that the A330-200's restricted turning circle has not led to any restrictions at the airports to which it operates. The airline has also suffered the same problems as other carriers have with the MLG shock absorber seals, and has had to replace one.

It's A330s are the most heavily used examples worldwide, averaging 15.7h utilisation a day or 110h a week. This reflects the long-range missions for which the carrier has chosen to use the aircraft. Its longest sector is 8.45h from Calgary to Munich.

In overall terms, the A330-200 has performed well during its first 18 months in service. It has delivered all that Airbus and the engine manufacturers had promised, and provided existing FBW Airbus operators with another string to their bows.

However, Airbus must work to rectify the aircraft's key remaining glitches to ensure that its launch operators continue to keep the faith.

Source: Flight International