As we all expected, Airbus pulled out a new plane solution to the B787 “problem” at Farnborough,  and announced that the company is launching the A330neo. It will provide 14% fuel savings per seat and first delivery is expected within 42 months (end of 2017).  The A330neo will not only have new engines, but a larger wingspan. Over-all weight reduction will be at least 800 kg. Kiran Rao, Airbus Executive Vice President, Strategy and Marketing said that the passengers will be the big winners alongside the airlines as they will see a “new look” and an even more comfortable cabin on the A330neo. He said: “Today we are announcing the A330neo. The A330neo is, of course, taken from the A330. The A330 has been one of our most successful aircraft in the Airbus wide-body family. We have sold over 1300 airplanes, and have nearly 100 customers worldwide. This is one of the most successful aircraft in the wide-body category that Airbus has produced; in fact the world has produced. And what we are doing is making this aircraft which is already great, we are making it better.”

Mr. Rao went on; “Fuel is extremely important when it comes to operating an aircraft. Because of the fuel prices that we have today, the cost of fuel represents half of the total cost of operating an aircraft. So any advantage that we can bring, the airlines have of course put the pressure on us to make sure we deliver fuel efficiency and with over 14% fuel efficiency per seat improvement, the A330neo will quickly be a great success. We have learned a lot of lessons of course in building the A320neo that is why we are able to do the A330neo in a shorter period of time. And what the airlines are asking us for is an A330neo as soon as they can get it. So with a 42-month program we will be able to deliver the first A330neo at the end of 2017. The A330 has a very comfortable cabin. Every passenger in economy class has an 18″ seat, that is much more than you get in an 787. So if we take the cabin, you take the improvements that we will give to the lighting, the improvements we will give to the sidewalls and the larger overhead bins, we will improve the crew rest areas for the pilots and cockpit crew. Well, put all that together and we will deliver an airplane where the passenger is the real winner.”

Here is the point… he went on to say, “The A330neo delivers a 14% improvement in fuel per seat. 14% improvement will make us as efficient as today’s 787. If we couple that with the lower maintenance costs and the higher passenger count of the A330 we have an airplane that will deliver lower cash operating costs than that of the 787 and lets not talk about price. But I can tell you that if we put everything together we will have a much better proposition to the airlines than the 787 has.”

For our readers Airbus noted: “Cabin evolution through an innovative use of the cabin space, the A330-900neo will accommodate up to 10 additional seats (from 300 to 310), while the A330-800neo will seat up to six additional passengers (from 246 to 252) – and retain the same high comfort standard as today’s A330, with 18-inch wide seats in economy class. Moreover, all passengers will enjoy a 21st century on-board experience, including fourth-generation high-definition in-flight entertainment (IFE), full connectivity plus the same full-LED mood lighting as in the A330’s big brother – the A350 XWB. The LED cabin lighting will be lighter and cheaper to maintain than traditional illumination while offering unlimited mood-lighting customization scenarios.”

We wondered about the IFE statement and note that Airbus also referred to the IFE on the A350 as fourth generation. So what they’re saying is that they expect AVANT and Panasonic’s eX3, which is what delivers on today’s A330s, to carry over to the A330neo, possibly with some new features and capabilities being developed in the meantime.

There have been a lot of orders for newer Boeing and Airbus wide-bodies and backlogs could push out deliveries for those planes for five or six years. Airbus says they can deliver the “modified” A330 in less than four years. The expected price is in the category as the $250+ million dollar Boeing B787 plane price range. Since the A350 (300 – 350 pax) runs around $295 million dollars and seats 300 to 250 passengers, it makes an interesting playing field in the years to come. Luckily, Boeing and Airbus “own” this large, wide-body market but we predict the real competition will be with future, narrow-body planes as there are at least five manufacturers in that one.

Editors Note 1: Air Lease Corp. agreed to order 25 A330neo-900s for delivery beginning in 2018, and noted that, “at $275m for -900, the A330neo has a “compelling price difference” compared to any other widebody”.

Editors Note 2: When interviewed by an Aviation Week reporter, Jim McNerney, Boeing CEO backtracked on his “No more moon shots…” statement. He went on to explain – “What I would like to have done is pursued 70 percent of the technology that still would have satisfied 95 percent of [customer desires]. It would have gotten to them quicker, and it would have cost us less. I can think of five or six specific examples of things we did that didn’t add much to the performance or the efficiency of the airplane. We’ve just got to be a little more careful.” Naturally, Aviation Week next asked, if the B787 was a mistake and Mr. McNerney noted, “That’s not the point I was trying to make—the 787 is a wild success. We built a very compelling airplane, but we could have gotten it into the field a couple of years earlier. It would have cost us less, and our customers would have had 95 percent of the performance sooner. You get excited about these projects, and things creep into the design and you lose discipline sometimes. We just need to be reminded about that.” Looks like a confession to us!

Editors Note 3: The 2014 APEX EXPO (Sept. 15 – 18) in Anaheim registration can be found here and the Aircraft Exteriors Expo Americas (Seattle, WA Oct. 14- 16) free registration can be found here.