Airbus A330 revamp takes aim at Boeing 787

  • By Dan Catchpole Herald Writer
  • Monday, July 14, 2014 4:18pm

Airbus Group revived the fight with the Boeing Co. for the twin-aisle jetliner market when it unveiled plans for an upgraded A330 on the first day of the Farnborough International Airshow.

The A330neo will fly farther on less fuel than existing models and help Airbus compete against Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner in the niche of smaller twin-aisle airplanes.

“The end result of today’s launch is that Airbus and Boeing enter a new era in widebody competition with very similar yet opposite line-ups,” said analyst Scott Hamilton of Issaquah-based Leeham Co., in a post on the company’s blog.

Airbus said it plans two versions, the A330-800neo and the A330-900neo, which will use 14 percent less fuel per seat and fly 400 nautical miles farther than existing A330s.

Air Lease Corp. of Los Angeles has agreed to buy 25 of the new A330-900s, as well as 60 single-aisle A320neos. No financial details were disclosed, but the A330 order alone is worth about $6.9 billion at list prices, which are often discounted.

The A330neo will use Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, which will be based on the Trent 1000-TEN engines used for Boeing 787s. Airbus plans to stretch the A330’s wings for better operating efficiency.

The -800neo will have room for 252 passengers in two ticket classes, and the -900neo will have room for 310 seats.

“The three largest costs for airlines are fuel, capital cost of equipment and labor, and Airbus has addressed two of those very efficiently here,” Air Lease Corp.’s owner, Steven Udvar-Hazy, said at the signing ceremony for his purchase commitment in Farnborough.

The biennial weeklong trade show in England brings together big and small players in the aerospace industry from across the globe, including a 25-member trade delegation from Washington led by Gov. Jay Inslee. Farnborough alternates years with the larger Paris Air Show.

Airbus is grabbing more headlines at Farnborough this year, in part because it is finally addressing lingering questions about its product lineup.

Boeing overhauled its catalog in recent years and made a big splash at last year’s Dubai Airshow, where it formally introduced the 777X. Now Boeing is looking to capitalize on those changes.

Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Renton-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes, questioned the ability of Airbus to deliver on the fuel-savings promise for the A330neo, according to news reports. But reaction from aerospace analysts has been positive.

Boeing orders

Farnborough started slower for Boeing, which announced on Monday orders and commitments worth about $6 billion at list prices.

Okay Airways, a privately owned carrier based in Beijing, ordered six 737 MAX 8s and four Next Generation 737-800s. Boeing also said it is finalizing purchase terms with Monarch Airlines for 30 737 MAX 8s. And Avolon, an airplane leasing company, committed to six 787-9 Dreamliners and five 737 MAX 9s.

In a Boeing news release, John Wojick, a senior vice president, said the two 737 models give Okay Airways’ fleet “market-leading efficiency, reliability and passenger comfort for many years to come.”

Some 737s could be getting less comfortable in the future, though. Boeing recently unveiled plans to offer a version of the 737 MAX 8 with seats for about 200.

Not to be outdone, Airbus has filed for patents on seats that look like bicycle saddles and would enable super-low-cost airlines to cram even more passengers in planes.

State’s delegation

Gov. Jay Inslee stumped for Washington’s aerospace industry during a flurry of high-level meetings Monday with companies interested in investing in or doing business with the state.

He met with Airbus’ top North American executive about opportunities for Washington companies in the supply chain of Boeing’s rival.

“Having the governor come into the room helps suppliers meet with higher level executives,” said Brian Bonlender, head of the state’s Department of Commerce.

Inslee is cutting his trip to Farnborough short to fly to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a meeting on climate change at the White House.

Moses Lake in spotlight

The Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. announced at the show on Monday that it plans to do flight testing of a new regional jet, the MRJ, at Moses Lake and in Japan.

The airplane builder has reached a tentative agreement with AeroTEC, a Seattle-based testing and certification company, to help with the program, according to a news release from Mitsubishi.

The announcement said about 80 engineering jobs will be in Moses Lake for about three to five years, according to Inslee.

Mitsubishi’s decision means growth for aerospace services in Washington. It is a small part of the state’s overall aerospace industry, which is largely focused on manufacturing and assembly.

On Friday, Inslee released Washington’s updated aerospace strategy, which emphasizes growth in aerospace sub-sectors such as testing and certification.

“We’re establishing infrastructure at Moses Lake that will be able to serve other companies,” Inslee said during a phone interview on Monday. “We have all these other niches that can succeed.”

Flight tests in Washington are slated to start in fall 2015, according to the company’s news release.

Mitsubishi picked Grant County International Airport at Moses Lake because it “satisfies all major requirements as a flight test center, including long runways necessary for specific flight tests, flexibility for take-offs/landings due to no regular transport services and greater chance of fair weather,” according to the release.

The company is developing the MRJ to compete in the regional jetliner market, which has been dominated by Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer.

At Farnborough, the company also announced that Florida-based Eastern Air Lines Group Inc. has placed firm orders for 20 of the MRJ90, which seats about 90 passengers, with options to buy 20 more.

Mitsubishi is also developing the MRJ70, which seats about 70 passengers.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed. Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454;; Twitter: @dcatchpole.