Airbus confirms it will refresh A330, has launch customer

By Christopher Jasper and Andrea Rothman Bloomberg News

FARNBOROUGH, England — Airbus Group said Monday it will upgrade the A330, extending the life of the two-decades-old wide-body jetliner while dropping the more modern A350-800 from its catalog after lackluster sales.

Airbus plans to build the A330-800neo and A330-900neo with new Trent 7000 engines from Rolls-Royce following a decision by the company’s board. The A350-800 will be scrapped, said Fabrice Bregier, who leads the airliner unit, at the the biennial Farnborough International Airshow here.

The A330 upgrade will enter development as Toulouse, France-based Airbus seeks a model to fit below the larger A350 and challenge Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner in the mid-size market. The aircraft, for which Steven Udvar-Hazy’s Air Lease Corp. will be the initial customer, should reduce fuel consumption by 14 percent and offer a range increase of up to 400 nautical miles, the manufacturer said.

“The three largest costs for airlines are fuel, capital cost of equipment and labor, and Airbus has addressed two of those very efficiently here,” Udvar-Hazy said at the signing ceremony of his purchase commitment, where he also announced plans to buy 60 additional A321neo airliners.

Hazy said the A330neo’s price point — the -900 version will cost $275 million at list price — makes it a compelling alternative. Boeing’s mid-sized 787-9 costs $249.5 list, though customers customers typically get discounts.

The decision to halt A350-800 development will allow the company to focus on the more successful and larger A350-900 and to address concerns that some major carriers have expressed about the largest variant, the A350-1000.

“We listen to the market,” Bregier said at the Farnborough expo southwest of London, which began Monday.

Airbus has been pondering the future of the A330, which sits between the A320 single-aisle family and the new A350, which is made of composite structures, following an order surge for the re-engined version of the A320 narrow-body. The wide-body aircraft has been a popular alternative to the more modern 787 after the Dreamliner was plagued by delays on service entry.

“The A330 is a very important margin contributor for our group,” Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said in a news release. “It is also one of the most reliable and efficient commercial aircraft ever. Customers love it.”

Los Angeles-based Air Lease has an agreement to take 25 A330-900neos with a list price of $6.9 billion, it said at a press conference with Airbus. The company could also take the -800neo variant, it said.