“Because of the 787 delays, customers took a closer look at the A330.”

“Because of the 787 delays, customers took a closer look at the A330.”

Boeing 787 delays coincided with spike in Airbus A330 leases

The 787’s early troubles might be in the past, but the Boeing Co. is still living with the hangover. The symptoms include resilient competition from Airbus’ A330 program.

When Boeing rolled out the 787 last decade, many industry watchers considered it a mortal threat to the A330, which entered service in the mid-1990s. But the Dreamliner’s ascendance to market dominance bogged down in myriad problems.

When deliveries finally began more than three years behind schedule, the airplanes suffered from reliability and other performance issues. Boeing made plenty of penalty payments to customers.

At the same time, the A330 received renewed interest from airlines. Airbus pitched its twin-aisle jet’s lower price and availability against the 787’s technological leaps. Leases shot up dramatically during the Dreamliner’s dark days, according to data from Flightglobal Fleet Analyzer.

A330 leases had been tapering down in the mid-2000s. Airlines added or extended 20 A330 leases in 2004, compared to only six in 2008. Since then, there have been an average of 32 new or extended leases each year, including 29 so far this year. From 2012 to 2015, the average was even higher at 38.5.

Nearly 60 of the leased A330s were built since 2008. Had the Dreamliner met its initial schedule, some of those A330s might not have been built. Airbus officials have boasted of selling more A330s after the Dreamliner’s unveiling than before. In the end, the 787 has not been the A330 slayer that some hoped it would be.

I can’t draw a straight line between the 787’s early troubles and the spike in A330 leases, but the coincidental timing can’t be dismissed out of hand. The operators include several 787 customers and some former ones, such as airberlin. The European carrier cancelled 25 orders for 787s and extended A330 leases after paring back its long-haul ambitions.

“There’s no question that because of the 787 delays, customers took a closer look at the A330,” said Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst and owner of Leeham Co.

That led to Airbus committing to the A330neo, an improved version with new engines, in 2014.

“If the 787 had been on time, I don’t think there would have been an A330neo,” Hamilton said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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