Growing hints that Airbus could re-engine the A330 provoked a mixed reaction from Boeing’s top executive on 29 January.
Responding to a reporter’s question on an earnings teleconference call, Boeing chief executive James McNerney noted that he had no direct knowledge of Airbus’ plans for the A330. But he did have some thoughts about what the impact would be if Airbus launched the A330neo.
“Could they build an airplane and lower the price to the point where it breaks even on some [net present value] analysis? Maybe,” he says. “But paying for the development you allude to and still having it all work would be tough in that kind of an environment.”
Airbus has been wrestling with its strategy in the 250-seat segment. A 2005 plan to launch the A350 as a re-engined A330 was nixed long ago. Instead, Airbus optimized the A350 family to compete in the sector above 290 seats, leaving the A350-800 struggling for orders against the 787-8.
In early January, Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders raised speculation about a potential A330neo launch, saying: “Take the [A320neo] concept. That’s something we’ll apply and try to apply in other areas as well. We do not always need brand new products, with all the price tag that applies to that.”
McNerney believes, however, that the 787’s advantage in the market is still “very, very compelling”.
The 787 replaces the 767 family in the market, although the latter is not completely departing.
The 767-300ER production run is giving way this year to a new variant called the 767-2C, which is the basis for the commercial aircraft that will be converted into the KC-46A tanker for the US Air Force. That aircraft could remain in production for more than 40 years at low rates, McNerney says.
“That’s a pretty good deployment of that capability, in my mind,” he says.