THE FIRST two customer Airbus A330neo aircraft have rolled out. This initial pair are A330-900neos CS-TUA (msn 1819, currently F-WWKM) and CS-TUB (msn 1836, currently F-WWCP) for the re-engined widebody’s launch operator, TAP Air Portugal. Both aircraft left the Toulouse paint shop with the wording ‘A330neo first to fly’ on their rear fuselages.
The first A330neo customer delivery was originally scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2017, but development issues with the Rolls- Royce Trent 7000 engines meant the first A330-900neo flight test aircraft, F-WTTN (msn 1795), only flew for the first time on October 19, 2017, with the second example, F-WTTN (msn 1813), following on December 4, 2017.
These two aircraft are currently engaged in flight and certification testing activities, as Airbus works to meet revised certification and delivery targets that call for type certification and delivery to TAP by the middle of 2018.
Type certification involves 1,400 flying hours in total. First to fly, F-WTTE, is used for performance, systems, flight control laws and cold weather testing, and F-WTTN is validating aerodynamic and engine performance, hot-and-high performance and some avionics systems, including autoland.
As service entry nears, F-WTTN will also be used for route proving flights, extended-range twin-engine operations and airline operations validation and testing the all-new Airspace cabin.
The second A330neo variant, the A330-800neo, is due to fly soon following the recent roll-out of the flight test aircraft (msn 1888, registration to be announced). This jet will undertake a further 300 flying hours of testing to certify the variant, which with 257 seats three-class (or 406 maximum) will have fewer seats than the A330- 900neo (which will have 287 seats three-class or 440 maximum), but greater range, at 7,500 nautical miles (13,900km). In comparison, the A330-900neo will have 6,550 nautical miles (12,130km) range.
With the Trent 7000 engines, the Airspace cabin and aerodynamic improvements such as the Sharklet winglets, both A330neo versions offer major upgrades from legacy A330s, but Airbus insists there will be 95% commonality with the older versions. Airbus is promising the A330neos will burn 14% less fuel overall than a legacy A330 and 25% less fuel per seat than previous-generation competitor aircraft in its size class, such as the Boeing 777-200ER.
Twenty A330-900neos will be operated by TAP Air Portugal in all. It has ordered 14 from Airbus directly and will lease another six (four from Air Lease Corporation and two from BOC Aviation). The carrier will use the aircraft to replace legacy Airbus widebodies in its fleet: 14 A330- 200s, four A330-300s and four A340-300s. The A340-300s are due to be phased out by 2020 as the A330-900neos arrive.
It is notable how TAP is the A330-900neo launch operator and an existing A330 operator rather than entirely new to the A330 family. The A330 is Airbus’ most successful widebody airliner, with more than 1,200 in operation and 123 individual operators, according to Airbus orders and deliveries data. Any positive feedback on the new version from an established operator like the Portuguese flag carrier would clearly strengthen Airbus’ case when pitching the A330neo to all the companies in the aircraft’s big installed operator base.
Business for the A330neo has nevertheless been sluggish. Airbus’ latest sales data shows 214 have been sold since the variants were launched nearly four years ago, although, as AIR International reported in March 2018, one factor is the continued popularity of the A330ceo models, production slots for which are still available.
This is not to say more A330neo orders might not be forthcoming. AirAsia is reportedly looking to reconfirm its order for 66 A330- 900neos and potentially order more as it seeks to expand its AirAsia X low-cost long-haul unit. The Financial Times quoted the airline’s founder and chief executive Tony Fernandes saying of the A330neo: “The flight test data is a lot, lot better than we expected. We are looking on it much more favourably.”
United Airlines is also assessing the A330neo as part of upcoming fleet replacement decisions. A February 27, 2018, presentation to investors by Gerry Laderman, the airline’s Senior Vice-President Finance, Procurement and Treasurer, revealed United is weighing up the A330-800neo alongside the potential Boeing New Mid-market Airplane to replace its Boeing 757-200s/757-300s and 767-300ERs. Any sales of the A330- 800neo in particular would be a vote of confidence in the variant given how Hawaiian Airlines in March cancelled its order for six examples and decided to purchase Boeing 787-9s instead. There are now no A330-800neo orders in the backlog, Airbus data shows.