DALLAS — Today in Aviation, the first version of the Airbus A330 completed its maiden flight in 1992. Two years later, it would enter service with Air Inter (Lignes Aériennes Intérieures), a semi-public French domestic airline that later merged with Air France (AF). The slightly shorter A330-200 version followed in 1998. How did the type come about?
The Airbus A330 wide-body aircraft was conceived in the mid-1970s as one of several derivatives of the A300, Airbus’s first airliner. The company produced the A330 twinjet in parallel with the A340 quadjet. With their first orders, Airbus launched both designs in June 1987.
It was expected that the Airbus A330/A340 offer would replace the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC8, which were ending their dominance of the intercontinental skies. The Airbus types were also pitted against the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L1011 Tristar, as the first could hold the same capacity with a fuel savings of 25%.
A330 Design and ETOPS Rating
The A330 and A340 began their lives with the design books A300B9 and A300B11, respectively. This was later changed to TA9 and TA11, where TA9 stood for twin-aisle.
The A330 shares its airframe with the early A340 variants, having two main landing gear legs instead of three, lower weights, and slightly different lengths. In order to increase commonality, both aircraft have fly-by-wire controls as well as a comparable glass cockpit.
This would give Airbus an advantage over Boeing in terms of cockpit commonality, which means shorter transition times for cross-training crews for both its narrow and widebody series.
Additionally, the A330 was the first Airbus airliner to deliver three engines to choose from: the General Electric CF6, the Pratt & Whitney PW4000, or the Rolls-Royce Trent 700. With 277 passengers, the A330-300 has a range of 11,750 km or 6,350 nmi, while the shorter A330-200 covers 13,450 km or 7,250 nmi with 247 passengers.
The aircraft entered service with an ETOPS-90 rating, which allowed one-engine or decompression operations for up to 90 minutes at a suitable diversion destination. When the active A330 fleet reached 25,000 flight hours, the planes adopted the ETOPS-120. After reaching 50,000 hours, the fleet obtained ETOPS-180.
In November 2009, the airplane received an ETOPS-240 approval that stands to this day with the A330.
Maiden Flight and First Customers
The A330’s maiden flight lasted 5 hours and 15 minutes. Height, speed, and other flight profiles were checked. At 181,840 kg (401,000 lb), the aircraft included 20,980 kg (46,300 lb) of test equipment.
On October 14, 1992, the first A330 rolled out, and the program obtained certification from the US FAA and the JAA on October 21, 1993. For two years, the A330 would be the largest twin-engine aircraft to fly until the arrival of the Boeing 777-200.
Right after Air Inter’s passenger service began in January 1992, Asian airlines Thai Airways (TG) and Cathay Pacific (CX) received their A330s. Northwest Airlines (NW) eventually became the first US customer of this type.
During the Pratt and Whitney engine certification tests, the program experienced a tragic setback on June 30, 1994, when an A330 crashed shortly after take-off from the Airbus plant in Toulouse as the crew tested the autopilot during a one-engine take-off scenario. Investigators faulted a slow crew response, and Airbus modified SOPs as a result.
More than 140 A330 Operators
By August 2019, 120 operators flew the A330 at over 400 airports worldwide, while its average dispatch reliability was over 99% and annual utilization was up to 6,000 flight hours.
As of September 2020, A330 family aircraft orders stood at 1,818, of which 1,501 had been delivered and 1,432 were in airline service, comprising 602 A330-200s, 38 A330-200Fs, 743 A330-300s, and 49 A330-900s.
The 1,500th airplane, an A330-900 (A330neo), delivered to DL on September 21, 2020, marked a historic milestone for the European airframer.
As of 2021, the five largest operators of the A330 were Turkish Airlines (TK) with 66, Air China (AC) with 59, China Eastern Airlines (MU) with 53, Delta Air Lines (DL) with 49, and China Southern Airlines (CZ) with 46.
As of September 2023, A330 orders stood at 1,809, of which 1,579 had been delivered and 1,463 were in service with 144 operators. The global A330 fleet has accumulated more than 60 million flight hours since its entry into service. The A330 is the second-most-delivered wide-body airliner after the Boeing 777.
On November 1, 2023, Hawaiian Airlines (HA) announced that it had extended the leases on four A330-200s that were originally scheduled to be returned in 2024 to manage capacity shortfalls. The A330 lease extensions will help HA maintain its network plans and mitigate the impact of ongoing A321neo engine issues.