Dissecting the A330neo from a weight perspective

  • A330-900neo 14% lower fuel burn per seat valid against 235-tonne -300
  • -900neo 8.5% more fuel efficient per seat against 242-tonne -300
  • -900neo has 10.6% lower block fuel burn against 235-tonne -300
  • -900neo has 5.1% lower block fuel burn against 242-tonne -300

With much fanfare, the re-engined A330neo (new engine option) family was launched on the first day of the Farnborough Airshow with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) from Air Lease Corporation (ALC) for 25 -900neo aircraft, which alongside its smaller sibling -800neo succeed the 295-seat -300 and 253-seat -200, respectively.

Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier confidently proclaimed that the European plane-maker would garner 100 orders for the aircraft by the end of the week, which will have an entry into service (EIS) in the fourth quarter of 2017, with potential orders coming from the likes of long-haul low-cost carrier (LCC) AirAsia X, lessor CIT and more.

The centrepiece of the upgrade is the 112-inch Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engine which is based on the Trent 1000-TEN (Thrust Efficiency and New Technology) powering the 787 Dreamliner and provides a 11% lower specific fuel consumption (SFC). While the Trent 7000 is considerably larger than the 97-inch Trent 772 engine on the existing A330, which along with strengthened engine pylons lead to increased weight and drag, thus creating a 2% and 1% respective fuel penalty, these are going to be offset by the 4% reduction in block fuel burn achieved by the installation of an A350-styled sharklet and other aerodynamic clean-ups.

The carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) A350-styled winglet will increase the A330neo’s wingspan by 3.7m from 60.3m to 64m while improving the lift-to-drag (L/D) ratio. The A330neo wing, made from aluminium, will also be adapted to the new engineering load distribution as a result of the addition of the sharklet while the shape of the inner slat will be optimised, according to Leeham News.

These combined will produce a 12% lower fuel consumption per trip and a 14% lower fuel burn per seat than a 300-seat 2-class 235-tonne A330-300 on 4,000nm (nautical miles) missions, while also trimming direct maintenance cost (DMC) by 5%. With the SpaceFlex galley, the A330-900neo and -800neo is capable of accommodating up to 10 and 6 additional seats while seeing an increase in range to 6,200nm and 7,450nm, respectively.

Monday’s launch immediately sparked a war of words between arch-rivals Airbus and Boeing, with the former saying the A330neo will be offered at a 25% lower capital cost than today’s A330 while featuring improved avionics, interior and share a 95% commonality; the latter claims the A330neo weighs heavier and cannot have the same fuel burn per seat as the 787 Dreamliner which is a lighter, technically superior aircraft. The A330neo, Boeing asserts, is a déjà vu of the original A350 commonly known as the A350 Mk 1.

“I don’t really care what is said, this [787] is really the most efficient airplane family around. I congratulate them on making that decision, on moving away from the A350-800 which is, what, they essentially, I guess are doing, and going back to the kind of re-engine scenario that they had in 2004, but there’s no way their plane is much better than ours,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) president and chief executive Ray Conner declared.

For its launch customer ALC, though, its price combined with incremental improvement in operational efficiencies makes it an attractive aircraft.

“There is a compelling price difference between the A330neo and any other widebody aircraft. I think it was a very smart, astute move on the part of Airbus,” Air Lease Corporation (ALC) chief operating officer (COO) John Pleuger said.

“I don’t believe they [Boeing] can close the pricing gap because the A330 is a mature programme, most of the development costs have already been absorbed and it’s a relatively minor step up compared to building a new airplane,” ALC founder and one of the A330neo’s strongest proponents, Steven Udvar-Hazy commented.

A330-900neoInterestingly, the weight figures released by Airbus on the A330neo have shed some light on the aircraft’s technical capabilities and that the 14% lower fuel burn per seat figure appears to hinge on the baseline of the comparison being the 235-tonne version of the A330-300 aircraft.

Airbus has maintained the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of both the -800neo and -900neo variants at 242 tonnes, while upping the -900neo’s maximum zero fuel weight (MZFW) to either 177 tonnes or 181 tonnes to preserve its payload/range capability despite the 5 tonnes increase in manufacturer’s weight empty (MWE).

As MZFW = operating weight empty (OWE) + maximum payload, with both the new and old MZFW figures being available and assuming a 5 tonnes increase in MWE translates into an equal amount of increase in OWE, it is possible to roughly gauge the change in the maximum payload. By the same token, as MTOW = MZFW + reserve fuel + trip fuel, according to the Aircraft Monitor, assuming the amount of reserve fuel remains constant on a 4,000nm sector on both the A330-900neo and A330-300, it is possible to gauge the change in the amount of trip fuel being consumed.

The percentage change in trip fuel calculated, coupled with the range figures provided by Airbus, could be used to obtain the implied block fuel burn reduction of an aircraft in addition to the per-seat fuel burn reduction figure implied by the weight change.

The 14% per-seat fuel burn reduction, for example, could be arrived at by evaluating the A330-900neo that has a 177 tonne MZFW against the weight variant WV054 of the A330-300 that has a MZFW of 173 tonnes with a range of 5,570nm in a 2-class 300-seat configuration. The result shows that a 2.98% increase in MTOW from 235 tonnes to 242 tonnes would be offset by a 2.31% increase in MZFW to produce a 0.67% higher amount of trip fuel being used.

Since the range increased by 11.31% from 5,570nm to 6,200nm, this basically means the aircraft used 0.67% more trip fuel to fly 11.31% farther or implying a 10.64% lower block fuel burn at maximum MTOW and MZFW. Adding another 3.33% per-seat fuel burn reduction arising from the 10 extra seats yields a 13.97% fuel burn per seat reduction figure.

Aspire Aviation found that, however, that the block fuel burn reduction and per-seat fuel burn reduction will narrow to 5.14% and 8.5%, respectively, versus the weight variant WV081, 242-tonne A330-300 that has a MZFW of 171 tonnes and a range of 6,100nm in a 300-seat 2-class configuration.

For the A330-900neo that has a 181 tonnes MZFW, though, the block fuel burn reduction and per-seat fuel burn reduction widen again to nearly 13% and 16.3%, respectively, against the 235-tonne WV054 A330-300; as well as 7.5% and 10.82% against the 242-tonne WV081 A330-300 that is slated to enter into service with the US’s Delta Air Lines in mid-2015.

Yet this methodology has its own limitations and flaws, as it assumes the A330-900neo and the A330-300 both operate at the maximum take-off and zero-fuel weights, which indirectly derives the plane’s fuel burn reduction at maximum payloads. Indeed, it is often a trade-off between the amount of fuel an aircraft carries and the payload or zero-fuel weight it operates at, otherwise it would usually exceed the MTOW limit. Therefore such a comparison does not work on any other payload/range combination within the A330neo’s reach.

Nevertheless it serves as a useful indication that with a significantly cheaper cost, the A330neo could have a feasible business case for a few operators which clamour for fuel efficiency more readily available than the 787 Dreamliner whose production slots are sold out until 2019 and 2020 at the earliest. Though Boeing is undoubtedly going to contest this, with rising production rate to 12 a month by 2016 and 14 a month by 2020 improving its availability and delivering superior capability at every stage length.

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Image Courtesy of Leeham News

Image Courtesy of Leeham News

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  1. Thanks Daniel! I will be taking a look at these numbers more intensely as well. It would be great if you can compare this to the B787-9/10 as well as the A359XWB and an A359XWB-R since Airbus was proposing that just last year.

    It seems the A358XWB and A359XWB-R might not go forward now.

  2. Daniel,

    your comparison is only correct for the base case (235t A330-300 vs. 242t A330-900neo.
    The A330-9000noe version with the 181t MZFW will of course have less range when actually flying with maximum payload. You have to consider where you are in the payload-range diagram.


  3. "with the former saying the A330neo will be offered at a 25% lower capital cost than today’s A330"

    really? new understood it that way. any sources?

    1. http://www.nasdaq.com/article/airbus-says-a330neo-will-have-25-lower-capital-costs-20140714-00102


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