Airbus announced a year ago that A330 production would fall to only 50 aircraft in 2019.
It made this decision just before the introduction of the first A330neo model, an upgrade of the current models with more fuel-efficient Trent 7000 engines. The new engines, combined with aerodynamic improvements and additional seating, reduce fuel burn per seat by 14 percent. Two new models, the 247-seat A330-800 and 277-seat A330-900, will replace the A330-200 and A330-300, respectively.
The A330-900 had racked up 230 net orders by the end of 2018. It competes against the Boeing 787-9 and, to a lesser extent, Airbus’ own A350-900. The A330-900 received European certification in September 2018, and Airbus delivered three aircraft by the end of the year.
Production of the A330-900 will ramp up in following years as production of the A330ceo models winds down. Airbus plans to completely transition to the A330neo model by the end of 2019, but order intake for the current models has been high enough in recent years that Forecast International believes production of the A330ceo will continue into 2021.
Demand for the A330neo is turning out to be lower than Airbus projected when it launched the program in 2014. One reason is that until recently, lower fuel prices reduced the immediate urgency of upgrading to more fuel-efficient aircraft. But more importantly, the 787 and A350 represent the latest in widebody aircraft design. Huge firm order backlogs for the 787 and A350 XWB indicate that operators are looking beyond the current generation of widebodies represented by the A330 family.
Long delays in development of Boeing’s new 787 – the closest competitor to the A330 family – led to strong sales of A330ceo models to maintain or expand capacity over the past decade. However, deliveries of the 787 have ramped up, and deliveries of Airbus’ own A350 XWB widebody are increasing each year (see FI’s “Airbus A350 XWB” report in its Civil Aircraft Forecast for details).
Airbus still plans to complete development of the A330-800 even though airlines have shown almost no enthusiasm for the aircraft. By the end of 2018, Airbus had a firm order backlog for only eight aircraft from a single customer, Kuwait Airways. These aircraft will be delivered over the 2019-2026 timeframe. Uganda Airlines signed a Memorandum of Understanding covering two aircraft at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show, and Airbus may pick up a few more orders each year for the type. But absent a major change in the market’s attitude toward the type, sales of the -800 will continue to be abysmal.
Meanwhile, demand for the A330-200F freighter variant has long been weak, and the forecast for the -200F is limited to the four aircraft in the backlog at the end of 2018. In time, Airbus may commit to developing a freighter version of the A330-900 if demand warrants.