Airbus believes its A330neo is capable of defending the airframer's position against the Boeing 787 as a replacement wave for older A330s accelerates.
The airframer – still smarting after the loss of its sole A330-800 customer, after Hawaiian Airlines switched to the 787-9 – points out that the replacement cycle for the -800's predecessor, the A330-200, has yet to gain traction.
Airbus's A330-200 entered service in 1998, four years after the -300, and A330 head of marketing Crawford Hamilton claims this lag is contributing to the absence of A330-800 interest.
"There are going to be early [-200] aircraft to start replacing in three or four years," he says.
Airbus has delivered a total of 620 passenger A330-200s and Hamilton says the airframer intends to "exploit" this operator base.
He says that some 100 A330s will have reached more than 20 years of age by 2020.
Flight Fleets Analyzer indicates that the oldest A330-300s still in service include some 24- and 25-year old aircraft with Brussels Airlines and Cathay Dragon.
Among the oldest A330-200s are 20-year old jets with TAP Portugal – already a customer for the A330-900, and expecting to be the first operator of the type this year.
Hamilton adds that 767s are also "ripe for replacement". The -300ER entered service 10 years before the A330-200 but Hamilton says Airbus is aiming at the population around 18-19 years of age.
Boeing has delivered a total of 583 767-300ERs.
While Airbus had originally attempted to counter the 787 with its first iteration of the A350 – effectively a re-engined A330 – the response from the market was poor.
Hamilton says the airframer "didn't execute properly" its strategy but adds that "every problem is an opportunity".
"From that experience, we learned exactly what we had to do with this aircraft," he says, stressing that the A330neo is "way better" than the earlier 'A350' concept it was pitching around 2004.
The A330neo is powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, on track for certification in the second quarter of this year.
Hamilton says the 787 – fitted with the Trent 1000 or the General Electric GEnx powerplant – is "far from a new aircraft nowadays" and believes the A330neo, despite being based on an old airframe, can still match the 787's economics.
He claims that, based on feedback from airlines, the judgement of a number of carriers is that the two aircraft have "very comparable, if not the same fuel burn".
Airbus is about halfway through the A330-900 certification campaign and is to proceed with the A330-800 test programme – the initial aircraft, MSN1888, is set to fly this year and perform some 300h of testing.
Hamilton says the airframer is open-minded about other potential development options for the -800. Airbus's only dedicated freighter programme is based on the A330-200, as is the military MRTT tanker.