The A330neo is a direct challenge to Boeing's all-new carbon-fibre 787 Dreamliner

Commercial airliners dominate first day of Farnborough

Airbus got the Farnborough Airshow off to fiery start today, renewing its battle for orders with Boeing by unveiling a new more efficient version of its A330 passenger jet.

The A330neo is a direct challenge to Boeing's all-new carbon-fibre 787 Dreamliner, offering big improvements in fuel efficiency but at a considerably lower cost than its American rival, a major consideration for cash-conscious airlines.

Boeing's latest market forecast, published last week, said the 250-300 seat wide-body jet market represents 4,520 aircraft worth more than $1 trillion over the next 20 years and Airbus hopes its new A330-800neo and A330-900neo models can achieve at least 1,000 of those orders, with Airbus boss Fabrice Bregier predicting up to 100 purchase commitments at the airshow.

This is not the first time Airbus has looked to update an existing product rather than launch a new one – it launched the A320neo in 2010, which rolled out earlier this month.

“We have huge potential in our (aircraft) family so we are looking for faster incremental improvements and this I believe is one of the best examples,” Bregier told journalists at a briefing at the airshow today.

The A330 update has seen an aerodynamic rework with the wingspan of the A330 increased by 3.7m and new carbon composite sharklets inspired by the company’s A350 XWB added to reduce drag and confer increased lift.

Combined with the addition of new bigger fanned Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines and a redesigned cabin, which will accommodate ten extra passengers in the A330-900neo and six in the A330-800neo, Airbus claims the aircraft will achieve a 14 per fuel burn reduction compared to the older model.

Pilots trained on the A330 will be able to fly the new models without extra training and 95 per cent of the airframe spares are shared, making the cost of integrating the new model negligible for existing customers.

The development cost of the project will be between €1-2bn with the first plane due to be delivered by 2017 and the company due to stop production of the original A330 by 2019.

John Leahy, Airbus's head of sales, said the company didn’t want to cannibalise its own products, but the launch appears to be aimed at addressing poor sales of the new A350-800, the smallest of the next-generation A350 family and a model which looks set to be halted or suspended as a result.

Boeing's showcase model this year is its stretched Dreamliner, a lengthened version of the composite airplane that was certified last month, and Boeing commercial airplanes chief executive Ray Conne defended the value offered by the 787, saying. "I don't really care what is said, this is really the most efficient airplane family around.”

But industry sources said the A330neo was likely to undercut the Boeing's 787 by about 25 percent based on the price of actual deals rather than list prices. Air Lease Corp, which encouraged Airbus to upgrade the A330, said the new plane offered improved efficiency at a good price.

"There is a compelling price difference between the A330neo and any other wide body (plane). I think it was a very smart, astute move on the part of Airbus," Air Lease president and chief operating officer John Plueger said.

While Boeing and Airbus fought it out for long haul orders, Bombardier long-delayed CSeries jetliner program got a boost after Chinese carrier Zhejiang Loong Airlines signed a letter of intent for up to 20 CS100 aircraft, a deal worth about $1.28bn at list prices, and Jordan's Petra Airlines also signed a letter of intent for up to four CS100 and CS300 planes, worth up to $298m.

Bombardier's new jet family is the planemaker's big bet on cracking the 100- to 149-seat market, with the Canadian firm touting the plane's superior fuel and operating efficiencies.

But various obstacles and delays, most recently a major engine failure in May that grounded test planes and prevented their appearance at Farnborough, mean there is some scepticism about the 2015 timeline. National Bank Financial analyst Cameron Doerksen sees service entry toward the end of 2015 "at the earliest."

Below the 100-seat threshold, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation is betting on growing demand for regional jets as markets develop in Asia and Latin America by developing the MRJ (Mitsubishi Regional Jet), the first airliner designed and produced in Japan since the 1960s.

The Japanese firm is forecasting that an ageing fleet and growing demand will see more than 5,360 61-100 seat regional jet deliveries by 2033, a trend it hopes to capitalise on with its 88-seat MRJ90 and 76-seat MRJ70.

Deliveries are scheduled to commence in 2019 and the Japanese firm also used today’s briefing to announce a memorandum of understanding for an order of twenty MRJ90, with the potential for a further 20 down the line, with Florida-based Eastern Air Lines Group.

The firm has its sights trained on rival manufacturer Embraer, which released its own forecast for the 70 to 130-seat market today that predicted 6,250 new deliveries in the next 20 years. Mitsubishi head of marketing Hideyuki Kamiya boasted of a wider and taller cabin than the Brazilian firm’s E175 and E190 offering combined with 10 per cent and 20 per cent less fuel burn respectively.

Concerns over fuel burn among operators also appears to be leading to a revival for older turboprop technology, with Franco-Italian manufacturer ATR announcing 144 firm orders for its ATR 42 and ATR 72 models since the start of the year – 150 per cent of the total sales for 2013.

A 50 per cent fuel burn reduction compared to a jet has made economic sense for short-haul flights for some time, but the company’s latest ATR 42-600 and ATR 72-600 variants also feature new Pratt and Whitney 127M engines with six blades rather than four, better synchronisation between the two engines and a reinforced fuselage that help combat noise and vibration normally associated with turboprop planes.

“People still think of turboprops as old and noisy. Well this is definitely not the case today,” said media relations manager David Vargas. “When they (operators) see what it is like in terms of comfort they say, ‘this is not what we expected’.”

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