Airbus Industrie is studying a new longer-range variant of the A330-300 to rival Boeing 777 developments.

The extended-range model is currently a product development study. It is likely to be the next new version of the A330 to be developed once Airbus has launched the A330-500 "shrink" later this year.

Sources close to the project say the new model is dubbed the A330-300 "high gross weight" (HGW). As currently proposed, the model will have a 7t increase in maximum take-off weight, to 240t, associated structural strengthening of the wing, increased fuel capacity (to 139,100 litres [36,700 USgal]), and more powerful engines.

These changes will boost the range of the 295-seater to "in excess of 6,000nm (11,100km)", says the source, an increase of more than 700km. The fuel capacity increase is gained by adopting the 41,600-litre centre section fuel tank of the A330-200/A340 which is currently dry on the -300.

It is believed that the weight increase will take the A330's take-off weight to near the limit of the pavement loading for the two-post/eight-wheel undercarriage, and Airbus is considering adopting the A340's two-wheel centre gear. However, this will incur a weight penalty of about 1,000kg.

International Lease Finance (ILFC), which was launch customer for the A330-200 and is discussing a deal for the -500, is a prime candidate to order the new model. "We see a need for a version of the A330-300 able to fly from the US West Coast deep into Europe," says chief executive Steve Hazy. "We are talking to Airbus about a longer-range version which would offer a similar performance to the low gross weight [Boeing] 777."

The aircraft could be the first twinjet application from the European consortium's stable for the General Electric/Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance GP7000.

The A330 is currently offered with versions of 68,000-72,000lb (300-320kN) thrust class General Electric CF6-80E1s, Pratt & Whitney PW4000s and Rolls-Royce Trent 700s. Airbus is understood to be studying increased thrust versions of these engines, as well as a possible GE/P&W GP7000 powered version.

Meanwhile, Airbus is moving forward with the 222-seat A330-500 (previously dubbed the -100). Launch is due within months, with a first flight in the third quarter of 2003 and an entry into service in early 2004. Development of the A330-300HGW would follow the -500, so the new version could be introduced five years from now.

Source: Flight International