As Airbus enters the home straight on the A330neo, everything appears to be running smoothly, with the type nearing certification.
Performance is on spec, the airframer insists, and it has now embarked on an 18-day route-proving effort with the re-engined twinjet.
However, simply referring to the 16-city trip as route-proving hardly does it justice: the airframer has clearly chosen the destinations with care in order to maximise marketing potential for the type.
And well it might – as the re-engining programme approaches the fourth anniversary of its launch at the Farnborough air show in 2014, just 214 orders have been booked for the -900, while the backlog on the smaller -800 has slowly evaporated to nothing.
Of course, all aircraft reach a certain point in their gestation where operators are happier to wait for the surety of certification and real-world operating metrics before putting their money down.
Aside from any doubts over the market’s so far cool reception to the programme, Airbus has a separate concern with the most crucial part of the A330neo – its Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines.
Delays to those powerplants are responsible for the type’s belated service entry – deliveries were originally intended to begin in late 2017 – and now potential reliability issues are an additional headache that Airbus could do without. Both the airframer and R-R insist that the durability shortfall seen on the Trent 1000 for the Boeing 787 will not be replicated on other Trent-series engines.
But almost 50 Dreamliners have been grounded as the UK engine manufacturer scrambles to implement a fix to the intermediate-pressure compressor: a problem that came on top of earlier glitches experienced with the powerplant.
In the meantime, the sight of all those 787s sitting on the tarmac while the engine issue remains unresolved is unlikely to persuade wavering would-be customers to commit to the A330neo, however unlikely that the fault is replicated on the Trent 7000.
At the end of May, Airbus held total orders for 332 A330s, including those for the re-engined variant – or around six and a half years of production.
That is a not insignificant total, of course, but Airbus will be crossing multiple digits and hoping that it has not misread the replacement cycle – and that the decision not to offer an alternative engine choice does not backfire.
Source: Flight International