Airbus could not disguise its delight in proving doubters wrong today with the first flight of the A330-800, saying it is “ready to bat the ball right down Boeing’s throat”.
Airbus has concluded flight-testing of the larger -900 variant and is poised to begin deliveries to TAP Air Portugal. But the -800 has had a cloud hanging over it since March when its only customer, Hawaiian Airlines, cancelled its order and switched to the Boeing 787. The -800 test aircraft was already structurally complete at that point and its first flight today (below) follows the commitment of a new launch customer, Kuwait Airways, last month.
“There were people in the industry who said the A330-800 wouldn’t be built, and then they said it would never fly. So today’s event proves that’s nonsense,” said Airbus’s A330 marketing chief Crawford Hamilton at the first flight event today in Toulouse.
The experience losing the Hawaiian order at the hands of Boeing was “fairly brutal”, says Hamilton, which followed a period of intense commercial pressure from its US rival.
“Boeing has been at us with a sledge-hammer for the last 2-3 years, undoubtedly. But there’s no point in being a victim,” he says. “We’re ready to bat the ball right down Boeing’s throat and come out fighting against the 787. That’s what the A330neo’s all about.”
Hamilton says the motivation behind Airbus launching the A330neo family in 2014 was to ensure it could maintain market share against the Boeing 787.
“Up until 2014, we were maintaining about 50% market share versus 787. And we started to see to signs that that was starting to slip. So it was time to do something new. And the logical thing to do was the Neo.”
He says that as a derivative design, the development of the A330neo was relatively low-cost allowing Airbus some commercial “wiggle room” when competing against the all-new 787.
“The public figure [for industrial investment in the A330neo] was $2 billion. We’ve got an aircraft that’s better than the 787 which cost perhaps $50 billion [to develop]. So that means we’ve got a real value product that we can offer.”
Airbus is targeting three market sectors as it looks to add to its existing -800 customers Kuwait Airways, which has eight orders, and Air Uganda which has a memorandum of understanding for two aircraft.
“One of our targets is to replace the massive installed base of A330-200s. Some of the oldest ones will start to go in next few years,” says Hamilton.
“The second part is replacing 767s. We’ve already done that [with -200]. We’re now going to do that with an aircraft that’s even more efficient.”
“Lastly there are new markets like long haul low cost and nations that need a new entry-level aircraft.”
Airbus holds firm orders for 232 A330neos, of which 224 are for the A330-900 and eight are for the -800. AirAsia X is the largest customer, with firm orders for 66 -900s.
The A330-800’s 350h flight-test programme that began today is due to conclude with type certification in mid-2019. Kuwait Airways is currently slated to be the first operator, with deliveries expected to begin in the first half of 2020.