Airbus certifies smallest A330neo in race to replace aging 767s

Feb 14, 2020

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European and U.S. regulators have certified the smallest Airbus A330neo model, the planemaker’s answer to airlines’ Boeing 767 replacement needs.

Certification of the A330-800 by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and U.S. Federal Aviation Administration comes after the aircraft completed 132 test flights, or 370 hours in the air, since its first flight in November 2018, Airbus said Thursday.

Airbus has not said who will receive the first A330-800, nor when. However, with orders from only Kuwait Airways and Uganda Airlines, plus one undisclosed customer, the potential list is short.

The European planemaker has positioned the re-engined A330neo family, which includes the A330-900 that began carrying passengers at TAP Air Portugal at the end of 2018, as a replacement for ageing A330-200 and -300s, as well as Boeing’s 767 family. The planes can carry 220-300 passengers in typical three-class layouts up to 9,379 miles for the smaller -800.

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The A330neo family has wracked up 336 firm orders to date, according to Airbus numbers. However, only 14 are for the A330-800.

The A330-800 had more orders, including from Hawaiian Airlines, but those commitments have dwindled as airlines switched to the larger -900 or cancelled outright.

U.S. carriers with large 767 fleets view the A330-800 sceptically. Delta Air Lines, which has ordered 35 A330-900s and leased another two jets, is concerned that the jet is too capable for all of its needs.

“We want to have range, capacity, [but] we don’t want it overbuilt”, the Atlanta-based carrier’s CEO Ed Bastian said of the A330neo in June 2018. “Sometimes an aircraft has too much capability, and too much range and actually becomes more expensive and it’s sub-optimal for what your mission needs are”.

While Delta is using some of its A330-900s to replace smaller 767-300ERs, particularly on longer routes to Asia, the airline is not yet using the Airbus jets on shorter routes to Europe or South America.

Airbus, for its part, has said that it can lower the takeoff weight and thrust of the A330-800, making it cheaper to operate and more closely match the operating capabilities of the 767.

Delta operated 56 767-300ERs with seats for up to 226 passengers, and another 21 767-400ERs with room for 238 passengers, at the end of 2019.

American Airlines opted to replace its 767-300ERs with 787-8s and cancelled its order for 22 Airbus A350s in 2018.

United Airlines, which operated 54 767-300ERs and -400ERs at the end of December, has not selected a replacement for the jets. In December, the carrier ordered 50 Airbus A321XLRs to replace its Boeing 757s.

Boeing has yet to identify its replacement for the 767, as well as longer-range 757s. The Chicago-based planemaker had been working on a New Mid-market Airplane, the so-called NMA, but essentially shelved work to reassess its development priorities in January.

Related: Boeing rethinking what its next all-new aeroplane will be

Featured image courtesy of Airbus.

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