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Airbus is right on A330 improvement strategy

Having decided against re-engining the twin-aisle medium to long-haul A330 aircraft which is likely to undermine the business case of its A350-800 sibling (“Airbus mulls re-engined A330 along with sharklets“, 5th Mar, 12), Airbus is adopting the least risky option of offering new, higher gross weight variants of the A330 aircraft family that not only will see the A330 being more capable than it has ever been, but also provide a natural hedge against further A350 delays as the carbon-composite aircraft ramps up in its development ahead of first flight in 2013 and service entry in mid-2014.

Airbus will offer a 240-tonne (529,109lbs) maximum take-off weight (MTOW) variant of the 300-seat A330-300 by mid-2015 first, from today’s 235 tonnes (518,086lbs), followed by the smaller A330-200 and A330-200F freighter thereafter.

The 240-tonne 300-seat A330-300 will see its range being extended by up to 400nm (nautical miles) to 5,950nm (11,020km) with 5 tonnes more payload, whereas the 240-tonne A330-200 will have its range being extended by 270nm to 7,050nm (13,060km) with 246 passengers and 2.5 tonnes more payload than the 238 tonnes variant.

Airbus said the latest incremental improvements being rolled out on the A330 aircraft will see a 2% reduction in its block fuel burn, with aerodynamic improvements contributing 1% of the fuel burn reduction, while engine improvements contribute to the remainder.

Airbus chief operating officer (COO) customers John Leahy said the improved 240-tonne A330-300 will be able to cover 94% of the 777-200ER missions, versus the first 212-tonne A330-300 production examples which only covered 65% of the Boeing 777-200ER markets with a range of 3,900nm.

“The A330 has come a long way in the last 10 years, and we are delighted to bring to more airlines the advantages and reliability of A330 economics over ever wider markets. This aircraft is the most popular aircraft ever in its category and looks set to hold this position for years to come,” Leahy said.

A330 improvements bode well for sales, A350
The latest improvements will bode well for the sales of the A330-300 as the 240-tonne upgrade enables airlines to operate the twin-engine aircraft on new routes such as London-Tokyo, Frankfurt-Cape Town, Beijing-Melbourne, Beijing-San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur-Paris, etc.

This would enable carriers such as long-haul, low-cost carrier (LCC) AirAsia X to replace their ageing gas-guzzling A340-300 aircraft by returning the quad-engine jets to lessors, standardise its fleet while reducing fuel costs, which typically account for over 40% of an airline’s operating costs in 2011.

Besides AirAsia, the 240-tonne A330-300 will be particularly attractive for Chinese carriers expanding internationally on transpacific routes and on routes to Australia, where a natural resources boom has seen Chinese carriers seizing the opportunity to grow with direct flights between the two countries. China Southern Airlines, which is anchoring for its “Canton Route” strategy as the Chinese version of lucrative “Kangaroo Route”, has seen a whopping 85.8% increase in the number of passengers transported from 277,427 in 2010 to 515,370 in 2011, whereas China Eastern Airlines (CEA) and Air China saw an increase of 26% and 8.1%, respectively (“Qantas on a wing and prayer“, 19th Jun, 12).

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is the frontrunner in becoming one of the launch customers for the 240-tonne A330 aircraft, which intends to decommission its 777-200ER within 3 years and its 9 remaining 747-400s by November this year, Bloomberg reported.

“We’ll be looking at Airbus’ announcement to see if it can do the job of the 777s. We’d love to have new models like the 787 or the A350, and maybe one day we will, but right now we need to simplify the fleet and operate four types of plane instead of maybe six or seven,” Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.

Kuala Lumpur-based AirAsia X, Air China, China Eastern Airlines (CEA), China Southern, Hainan Airlines and Singapore Airlines (SIA) are also likely customers for the 240-tonne A330-300 aircraft, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at the European plane-maker said. Singapore Airlines (SIA) has already leased 19 Airbus A330-300s from Airbus to replace its Boeing 777-200 and -200ER aircraft and has another 15 additional examples to be delivered between 2013 and 2015. Any additional order from the Singaporean flag carrier is possibly for its newly-launched long-haul low-cost carrier (LCC) Scoot Airlines which will streamline its operations with economies of scale regarding maintenance and training along with its parent’s strong A330-300 fleet.

According to Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Singapore Airlines (SIA), Airbus and SIA had held a private dinner during this year’s Singapore Airshow in which an upgraded A330 version was pitched to the carrier. Separately, the third European Union-China Strategic Dialogue has commenced on Tuesday in Beijing, though the sparring row over the controversial EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) has already put 45 A330 orders from Chinese carriers worthing €9.6 billion on hold, along with 10 Airbus A380 orders from Hong Kong Airlines, which may diminish the near-term sales prospect of 240-tonne A330 aircraft in the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, the minimal change required for the higher maximum take-off weight (MTOW) A330s means it will free up scarce engineering resources for the A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) programme, which has had a 6-9 month delivery slip that sees its entry into service (EIS) being postponed to mid-2014, in addition to being a natural hedge for airlines against further A350 delays.

Airbus said it has decided against adding the A320 sharklets to the A330 and that the increase in maximum take-off weight (MTOW) is achieved through adding the load alleviation function to its fly-by-wire system.

In doing so, the manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) of the aircraft will not increase much since the need of strengthening of outer and centre wing boxes is eliminated.

As a software update of an A330’s fly-by-wire system could be achieved fairly easily, Aspire Aviation thinks Airbus should make a retrofit programme available earlier than the mid-2015 timeframe and enable airlines to enjoy a 1% reduction in fuel burn from improved engines, as another 1% fuel burn saving comes from shorter flap fairings. All three engine-makers have said there will be retrofit programmes available that trim 1% off engine specific fuel consumption (SFC).

This is consistent with Airbus’ approach in continuously improving the A330 aircraft, with a retrofit programme for the 238 tonnes A330-200 being available and another retrofit programme for 235-tonne A330-300 due to be available from third quarter of this year onwards. China Eastern Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines have already taken up the A330-200 retrofit programme while Korean Air, China Southern, China Eastern, Turkish Airlines and Aircastle are receiving 238-tonne -200 production aircraft. Swiss International Air Lines, China Southern, Air China and General Electric Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), in the meantime, are customers of the 235-tonne A330-300.

Therefore this bodes well for the A350 XWB programme, particularly so for the smallest 270-seat A350-800 variant whose entry into service (EIS) is delayed by 2 years from 2014 to 2016.

The A350-800 is the variant with the most serious overweight issue in the aircraft family with an around 5 tonnes overweight and has already missed its fuel burn target by “a few per cent”, whereas the baseline -900 model is around 3 tonnes overweight, according to Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Airbus. Had Airbus pressed ahead with re-engining the A330 along with sharklets, it would have diluted scarce engineering resources from the A350 XWB and A320neo (new engine option) programmes that would otherwise have worked at trimming the weight of the A350 and ensuring the smooth execution of the crucial aircraft programme.

Simply put, while the A350 programme has performed better-than-expected in execution so far, with the amount of travelled work still being manageable, significant risks nevertheless remain, especially during testing times where a potential weakness in the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner’s side-of-body area prompted the Chicago-based plane-maker implementing a costly fix with titanium fittings; ordering both the A350 and 240-tonne A330 with the latter providing interim lift from mid-2015 onwards makes the most sense.

“We’ve already had three airlines and one leasing company saying ‘Can’t you get it for early 2015′. We could maybe get it a few months early but summer 2015 is target for now,” Airbus chief operating officer (COO) customers John Leahy said.

777-200ER versus A330-300
As the A330-300 is becoming more capable and more fuel efficient, Airbus is pitching the aircraft as a “perfect 777-200ER replacement”, with tis chief operating officer (COO) customers John Leahy characterising “It is the perfect replacement for the 777-200ER and the A340-300, and there are a lot of 777s and 340s to be replaced”.

Airbus claims today’s 300-seat 235-tonne A330-300 burns 16% less fuel per seat than a 302-seat 777-200ER on a 1,800nm mission, with the A330-300 outselling the 777-200ER by 575 to 428 and the A330-300’s outstanding backlog being 169 versus the 777-200ER’s mere 11.

Boeing countered by saying the 777 remains the market leader and that the 777-200ER is more fuel efficient than the A330-300, with the former burning 2.89 litres (L) of fuel per passenger per 100km, versus the latter’s 2.98l on a 3,000nm mission (“Boeing: 777 way much better than A330“, 8th Dec, 10).

3,000nmi Mission (5,556km)

Model Passengers
(long-range tri-class)
Block Fuel
per Seat-Km
(L/seat/100 km)
Relative
Block Fuel
per Seat-Km
Relative Cash Operating Cost per Seat-Km
777-200ER 301 2.89 Baseline Baseline
A340-300 262 3.25 +12% +16%
A330-300 262 2.92^ +1%^ +4%^
A330-200 241 3.04^ +6%^ +9%^

6,000nmi Mission (11,112km)

Model Passengers
(long-range tri-class)
Block Fuel
per Seat-Km
(L/seat/100 km)
Relative
Block Fuel
per Seat-Km
Relative Cash Operating Cost per Seat-Km
777-200ER 301 3.08 Baseline Baseline
A340-300 262 3.49 +13% +17%
A330-300 262 n/a1 n/a1 n/a1
A330-200 241 3.25^ +6%^ +11%^

Assumptions:

  • European long-range rules
  • Long-range three-class seating configurations
  • 2009 U.S. dollars
  • Fuel price, US$3.00 per U.S. gal

1 Fuel burn figures on 240-tonne A330-300 currently unavailable
Aspire Aviation estimates incorporating 2% block fuel burn reduction

A noteworthy point is, as Airbus has chosen a 1,800nm sector instead of the much longer 3,000nm and 6,000nm, this would favour the lighter Airbus A330-300 airframe over the heavier 777-200ER, with the former airline-specific operating empty weight (OEW) at 124.5 tonnes (274,000lbs) and latter with a GE90-powered example at 145.5 tonnes (320,800lbs).

In addition, the seat counts used in Airbus and Boeing’s comparisons are different, which will skew the results as a higher number of seats usually leads to a lower fuel burn per seat figure. In this regard, Boeing’s figures seem to have assumed too few seats on a 3-class Airbus A330-300 while assuming too many seats on a 3-class 777-200ER.

A330-300

777-200ER

Operator

Seats

Operator

Seats

Delta Air Lines (3-class)

298

Delta Air Lines (3-class)

273

Air China

(3-class)

301/311

American Airlines

(3-class)

243

AirAsia X

(2-class)

377

Air France

(3-class)

307

Asiana Airlines (2-class)

290

Asiana Airlines (3-class)

262

Korean Air

(3-class)

280

Korean Air

(3-class)

248/261

Cathay Pacific (3-class 33G)

242

Japan Airlines (3-class)

245

Malaysia Airlines

(2-class)

294

Malaysia Airlines

(2-class)

282

Singapore Airlines (2-class)

285

Singapore Airlines

(2-class)

293/285

Thai Airways

(2-class)

305

Thai Airways

(2-class)

292

US Airways

(2-class)

296

ANA (3-class)

217

Source: seatguru.com, airline websites

In Aspire Aviation‘s views, the A330-300 is a lighter, more fuel efficient aircraft than the competing Boeing 777-200ER on shorter missions under 6,000nm, whereas the 777-200ER retains the fuel burn advantage on longer sectors. Furthermore, while the improved A330-300 will have the 6,000nm capability for the first time, it is still not a true one-for-one 777-200ER replacement, as the 777-200ER will still have a range advantage of 7,725nm versus the A330-300’s 5,950nm and the 777-200ER’s higher maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 297.5t versus the A330-300’s 240t, and by Airbus’ admission as well.

Future competition
Make no mistake, while the A330-300 remains the most fuel efficient aircraft on medium-haul, its future competition by no means is the Boeing 777-200ER, which is poised to be succeeded by larger, more fuel efficient 353-seat 777-8X (“Revamped 777X may limit sales prospects of Boeing jumbo“, 3rd Jul, 12).

As for the 300-seat A330-300, its true competition will be the 323-seat “double stretch” variant of the Dreamliner, the 787-10X.

The 787-10X will be 5.49m (18ft) longer than the -9, with a 4-frame and 5-frame stretch in the forward and aft fuselages, respectively. It will share the same wing as the 787-9 and be a simple stretch whose ground of the stretching work has been laid by the -9 stretch. In addition, it will have the same maximum take-off weight (MTOW) as the 787-9 at 250.8 tonnes (553,000lbs), a maximum landing weight (MLW) of 201.8 tonnes (445,000lbs) and a maximum zero fuel weight (MZFW) of 192.8t (425,000lbs).

According to Aspire Aviation‘s multiple sources at the Chicago-based airframer, the 787-10X is likely to be launched late 2012, with a firm configuration in mid-2014, the detailed design phase from first-quarter 2015 through third-quarter 2016, a roll-out in the first half of 2017, followed by an entry into service (EIS) in 2018 or 2019.

The 787-10X will have a range of 6,750nm with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN engine or 6,700nm with General Electric GEnx-1B PIP2. Boeing has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Boeing last month to use the RR Trent 1000-TEN (Thrust Effciency New technology) engine on the 787-10, which will be 3% more fuel efficient than the Package B Trent 1000 build standard, an Aviation Week report says.

The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 Package A engine missed its original engine specific fuel consumption (SFC) by 4.3% and the Package B will exceed the SFC target by 2% and the Package C engine upgrade will be “within 1% of specifications”. Coupled with the Trent 1000-TEN, the 76,000lbs engine will be around 1% better than the original SFC target.

In comparison, the General Electric GEnx-1B engine has missed its original SFC target by 2.7%, with performance improvement packages PIP1 and PIP2 clawing back 1.6% and another 1% of fuel efficiency, respectively. GE said the PIP1 has exceeded its original expectations.

All in all, these will make the 787-10X a highly fuel efficient medium to long-haul airplane with 25% lower fuel burn than an A330-300, as well as a 10% and 5% lower operating cost than the A350-900 and -1000. This will enable the 787-10X to capture a market segment that will be left blank by Airbus in its widebody strategy.

“It will be 25% better in fuel burn than the A330-300 and can carry out all the missions of the A330-300 and -200,” new Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) chief executive Ray Conner said.

Airbus contests the cost efficiency brought by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, claiming at a Farnborough briefing the cash operating cost (COC) per seat of a 300-seat A330-300 is 17% lower than the 777-200ER and is only 1% and 6% higher than the 787-8 and -9, respectively. The direct operating cost (DOC) of an A330-300, in the meantime, is 10% lower than both the 777-200ER and 787-8, whereas the 787-9’s DOC is 4% higher than that of an A330-300, Airbus says.

However, as DOC = COC + capital cost, unless the Boeing 787-10X is priced at a very significant premium to the A330-300, which is unlikely to be the case, Aspire Aviation is sceptical and thinks Airbus’ figures are questionable.

For instance, Aspire Aviation estimates there is a 6%-10% cost per available seat mile (CASM) advantage of the 787-8 over the A330-200 (“Boeing 787 could revolutionise US long-haul market“, 5th Jul, 12) and while more seat counts on the larger A330-300 are going to negate part of the CASM advantage, the 787-8 nevertheless still holds a 5% or more distinct cost advantage. The 20% reduction in fuel burn, which Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) puts at 21% over the 767-300ER, 30% lower airframe maintenance cost are going to translate into significantly lower COC and hence DOC versus the aluminium-made A330, let alone the early-built 787s have 6% higher block fuel burn than standard 787 production examples that meet Boeing’s operating empty weight (OEW) and manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) targets from line number LN90 onwards.

Last but not least, as the Airbus A330-300 becomes more capable with the 240-tonne weight variant, it is a good intermediate step that provides a natural hedge against any further A350 XWB delays and provides interim capacity that preserves scarce engineering resources, all the while being the most fuel efficient medium-haul airplane until a mass number of Boeing 787 Dreamliner and later on, 787-10X in 2018 or 2019, becomes the mainstay in the fleets of a large number of airlines.

Image Courtesy of Airbus

8 Comments

  1. Christopher dye July 12, 2012 Reply

    Daniel, Thx for your usual great effort. Question: if the -10X is only a “simple stretch” of the -9, why will it take 6-7 years to get it into service (from launch in late 2012 to first delivery 2018-19)? I would have thought that that 2 years or so after the first delivery of the -9 in early 2014 would have been the EIS.

  2. Author
    Daniel Tsang July 12, 2012 Reply

    Christopher,

    Many thanks for the praise.

    I think the 2018 EIS date for 787-10X is mainly an engineering resource issue, with the 737 MAX & 777X entering into service late 2017 & mid-2019, respectively.

    While this seems manageable, should recent significant 787 progress serve as a guidance and be maintained, stretching the 787-9 further into -10 should be the most simple work scope.

    And parts are usually produced 6-9 months, if not longer, ahead of the first final assembly of the stretched variant, as 787-9 parts are beginning to be produced and would be available late this year…

    Before that, there are many “gates” processes – preliminary design, detailed definition freeze and involve release of many engineering drawings.

    The 787-10X is based on the same wing as 787-9 and has the same MTOW, the stretches in fwd & aft fuselages should be the only thing those new engineering drawings centre on.

    Though it remains to be seen if the 787-10X will feature even lighter parts than the 787-9…

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