Reported by: Chris Sloan (Toulouse/Lisbon) with James Field (Manchester)
LISBON — The time for the A330neo is now. Launch operator TAP Portugal and Airbus hosted a scrum of journalists and VIP’s on a special A330neo passenger proving flight Tuesday.
The test flight, operating from Toulouse to Lisbon, is the first leg of a worldwide route proving trial and tour—the first time non-Airbus and TAP employees would be carried aloft on the A330-900neo.
The A330neo’s new specifications are well known: new A350-styled Sharklets and “bandit” windscreen, numerous aerodynamic enhancements, Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, and 99% commonality with the current generation A330ceo.
Airbus claims many of these new features contribute to a 14% reduced operating cost per seat mile and a range increase of 1,500 nautical miles over the A330ceo.
The manufacturer also claims a fuel burn savings of 25% over previous generation competitors.
Airbus has positioned the A330neo in what they consider a sweet spot of the market as a replacement for retiring Boeing 767-300s and as a competitor to the 787 Dreamliner, albeit one with a lower capital cost optimized for mid-haul routes than the longer-range routes of the Dreamliner.
The smaller variant, and so far unsuccessful A330-800neo, could even blunt the impact of a possible Boeing 797 MoM aircraft.
The most visible aspect of the plane’s interior is supposed to be the Airspace by Airbus.
Seeing it in the wild, instead of a mockup, was going to be a highlight.
Airspace is an evolution of the A350 cabin that will be the blueprint for other forthcoming Airbus aircraft including the A320neo family in 2020.
The hallmarks of the new cabin design include larger overhead bins, increasing capacity by 66%, and LED lighting technology offering up to 16.7 million possible color scenarios that can incorporate the airline’s bespoke branding. The cabin also includes a particular welcome area for passengers boarding.
Finally a small taste of the @Airbus #AirSpace cabin lighting. It features lighting using LED tech offering up to 16.7 million possible color variations and lighting schemes. Let’s see what they demonstrate today. pic.twitter.com/jczswCc1Fb
— Chris Sloan (@airchive) June 19, 2018
Upgraded lavatories and larger window bezels are also in the mix. With the daylight flight, and the aircraft still in test mode, alas a full demonstration wasn’t meant to be.
Reviewing the A330neo Program
Airbus launched the A330neo in July 2014 at the Farnborough Airshow with hopes to sell 1,000 examples.
121 planes were ordered at launch, with 214 orders amassed since then.
Though Air Asia X, the expired Transaero, and three leasing companies comprised the initial customers, Delta’s order for 25 A330-900s made it the official launch customer.
Thus far, Airbus’ order book has fallen short of projections with just 214 on order, following cancellations for 6 of the currently orphaned A330-800neo variant.
Airbus expects the sales pace to accelerate as the 767s and early build A330s reach the end of their service lives, and as fuel prices push upward.
Airbus A330 Chief of Marketing, Crawford Hamilton, said that the A330neo isn’t the typical program where the big order numbers roll in at launch.
Instead, he sees the replacement market significantly ramping up as it will pave the way for replacements over the 767, 777-200 as well as early production A330s and A340s.
Hamilton emphasizes that since the A330neo program has launched, it has achieved nearly 50/50 market share against the 787, with 419 units of the A330 sold since launch compared to the 415 787s sold since then.
Interestingly, surging Portuguese carrier TAP Portugal ordered ten A330-900neos in November 2015, securing the high profile role launch operator.
With the introduction of its successful Portugal stopover program, the emergence of the Iberian peninsula country as a hot destination, and David Neeleman’s Atlantic Gateway’s investment in the company, TAP has been on a roll of late.
With tourism booming in Portugal’s, TAP is closing in on nearly 50% of North American passenger’s taking advantage of the up to five-day free stopover before continuing onto another destination in TAP’s extensive network.
TAP’s lower fares, particularly in premium cabins, and the ease of connecting through Lisbon are contributing to its growth.
The airline’s reputation for a higher level of service and in-flight catering have won it numerous accolades and the attention of the traveling public.
If all goes according to plan, TAP will receive seven of its 21 A330-900s by the end of 2018.
Eleven of TAP’s A330neos are coming from multiple leasing companies. The first A330neo is scheduled to be handed over late in the Summer and then enter service in September, though CEO Antonoaldo Neves says this date could slip later into the 4th quarter.
TAP’s Potential New Routes
Initial flights on the A330neo will be between Lisbon and São Paulo with Rio de Janeiro and New York to follow shortly after that.
The A330neo opens up further expansion to the West Coast beyond TAP’s current five North American Gateways as well.
TAP’s new A330neo will also replace retiring 15 A330-300s and A330-200s, according to an interview with David Neeleman in The Cranky Flier blog.
TAP became the launch operator of the type once it switched from the A350 to A330neo.
This change was as a result of the reduction in capital costs between the A330neo and A350, as well as the latter being more suited to TAP’s route network.
Reportedly, operational lease costs for the A350 were around $1.4 million, with the A330neo costing about $800,000.
The A330 is part of a grander fleet overhaul strategy at TAP that will see an entirely new or retrofitted long-haul fleet ted by 2020.
An order of 14 A321LRs will allow the Portuguese carrier to open up new thinner markets, such as possibly Hartford or Providence, but also provide a supplement to the A330s upping frequencies to daily flights during low season and off-peak days.
Neves says that he expects the A321LR to enter service with TAP by the 4th quarter, with the aircraft due to operate the Newark-Porto service.
Washington D.C will be the most likely option for the carrier’s next North American destination, based on the A321LR’s reach.
While the A330neo can open up a direct flight to San Francisco, the airline has not confirmed the rumors.
Also, TAP has ordered 17 A321neos and 19 A320neos. The fleet rejuvenation includes 71 new aircraft to be delivered between now and 2025, which will give TAP one of the youngest fleets in Europe.
A Deep Dive Into The A330neo Program
Airbus’ Hamilton says that the A330neo is the completion of Airbus’ family of the 140-555 seat market segment.
The CSeries, which covers the 100-149 passenger segment, was omitted from the chart, however.
He also boasted about the total operational commonality from the A320neo family to the A380 program regarding training as well as the family having the range for any flight.
Hamilton continued by saying that the A330neo is built on top of what the manufacturer learned with the A350, such as the new engines, new high span wing, structures, and systems as well as the new interiors.
He expects the A330neo to reach the 99.5% operational dispatch reliability of the A330ceo.
Hamilton also mentioned the Common Cockpit Philosophy, with how the A330neo features new A350XWB functionalities including connectivity systems enabling advanced e-operations and how it follows the same standard operating procedures.
The Rolls-Royce Trent 7000s are on track for certification in the second quarter of this year and will offer up to 11% lower fuel burn versus the current A330, which was derived from the proven efficiency and reliability of the Trent XWB engines.
The Sharklets and “twisted” wing lower fuel burn through improved aerodynamics and benefits from the new A350 design. The wing is 4 meters longer than the comparable 787 wing.
Block efficiency on the A330neo is 14% lower fuel burn per seat versus the current engine option of the A330. With cabin optimization, CASM is reduced on the aircraft.
TAP’s A330neo is the first to be equipped with the Airspace interior, featuring light instrumentation to test new cabin and air-conditioning systems.
The manufacturer also demonstrated how much versatility there is within the A330neo.
The average operator of A330neos will be around 13 aircraft, 287 seats per plane and up to 5.5 hours duration in flight, which shows that they are offering the right apparatus to the vast majority of carriers based on their needs as either an LCC or a legacy carrier.
The A330neo also features 1,500 nautical miles more range than most of today’s A330s in operations, which enable the aircraft to truly be classified as “long haul” and open up new markets.
The A330-200, the most common type, offers a range of 6,850 nautical miles and has a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 238 tonnes.
The A330-900 will have an MTOW of 251 tonnes and fly up to 7,200 nautical miles. The shorter -800 will fly as far as 8,150 nautical miles on one tank.
Route Trials and Tribulations
Route trials for the A330neo began on June 18, with the three trips to Airbus facilities that they billed as ‘Family Day.’
Beginning with Tuesday’s flight, the demonstration tour will cover 16 cities, over 18 days, accruing up to 159 flight hours.
To date, 80% of the A330neo’s flight test campaign has been completed and has accrued over 1,000 test hours from 267 test flights.
They have completed tests such as crosswinds in Ireland, natural icing in Milwaukee, cold weather in Kazakhstan, hot weather in Mexico, high altitude in Bolivia as well as external noise in Spain.
MSN1819 is embarking on a worldwide tour to simulate airline missions. Before entry into service, TAP’s A330neo will enter route-proving trials to Brazil, New York, and Miami.
TAP’s first A330neo, MSN1819 first flew on May 15, 2018, and is the first of the three A330neos in the test program to be fitted with the new Airspace cabin and is equipped with flight test instrumentation. It has been testing cabin systems such as air conditioning.
Once the mission gets underway, according to Airbus, “Tests will include: ETOPS missions, landing at diversion airports and testing airport handling services.”
These route trials are among the last required for aircraft Type Certification scheduled for summer 2018.
The three A330-900 flight test aircraft will reach 1,000 flight hours during the tour of the Airbus plants.
MSN1819 will head to São Paulo on Wednesday, June 20, after spending less than a day in Lisbon.
Once arrived, it will turn around after just a few hours on the ground simulating high utilization airline operations. This will be the course throughout the test period.
With certification nearly complete and the first fight only occurring on October 19, 2017, this has been one of Airbus’ quickest program developments to date. Though like any new program these days, it hasn’t been devoid of delays and pain – mainly attributed to Rolls Royce engine production delays.
Onboard The Test Flight
Flight Number: AIB339
Registration: F-WWKM (CS-TUA)
Aircraft Type: Airbus A330-941neo
Origin: Toulouse Blagnac (LFBO)
Destination: Lisbon (LPPT)
Flight Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Seat: 11A (Economy Xtra)
No one ever said Airbus can’t throw a party, and it did. Before the demonstration flight, we were thrown a lovely pre-flight light, Champagne-soaked lunch by Airbus.
As this wasn’t a delivery flight, our briefing was held near the Flight Test Centre which gave us a bird’s eye view of our conveyance – MSN1819.
Also, Cathay Pacific took delivery of its A350-1000 on the same day – an eventful one for Airbus in Toulouse.
The boarding process was very quick and organized. There were a few members of Airbus staff that were inspecting our boarding passes and passports and processing them in a very efficient manner.
We were taken by bus to the aircraft, with some fantastic views of the flight line, featuring the A330neo and A350XWB testbed aircraft, which was a fascinating sight to see.
A Look Inside and Out…
With cabin optimization, TAP has been able to increase the capacity of the A330-900neo to 298 seats over its same sized 285 seat equipped A330-300s.
The Executive cabin hard product features 34 elegant Recaro CL6710 lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration with direct aisle access at all seats.
They feature six-way adjustable headrest support and all the standard kit including headphone storage, ample storage space surfaces, water bottle pockets, USB slots and individual electrical sockets. A 16″ monitor rounds out the package nicely.
These well-appointed Recaro seats have only heretofore been installed on El Al’s new 787, and are new to TAP. They superseded the outstanding new premium hard product just recently installed on the airline’s A330ceos.
The front cabin is bathed in rich woods and wood tones, giving it an elegant, restrained ambiance.
I didn’t get a chance to sample these seats for myself, but people I spoke to said the seats and bed were among the most comfortable they had experienced.
One savvy flyer called it an improvement over the “narrow, coffin, herringbone cabins now seemingly in vogue.”
As a bonus, given supply chain disruptions experienced by other premium seat third-party manufacturers, Recaro who is mostly known for its economy seating, is enjoying smooth production. Airlines who opt for these outlier seats aren’t experiencing aircraft delivery delays.
TAP’s national colors of green and red branding shines through the colorful rear cabins. There are 98 Recaro seats in Economy Xtra, an extra legroom class at 34”.
Swimming against the grain of many of its Star Alliance partners, TAP has opted against a true Premium Economy cabin. TAP maintains it’s predominantly a leisure-based carrier for now, so this makes sense.
Standard economy boasts 166 seats, arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration with 18” wide seats with 31” pitch – a passenger experience advantage over the dreaded densified 787s with their 17” seats in 3-3-3. All the Recaro seats feature clever adjustable headrests and neck rests as well.
Almadesign, a Portuguese design firm worked in conjunction to create a customized approach to the Airspace cabin, one further enabled by the endless lighting choices. The new cabin echoes the airline’s four pillars: comfort, environment, service, and design.
As reported in RunwayGirlNetwork, TAP has chosen to upgrade the IFE with the Panasonic eX3. A Panasonic Avionics Ku-band solution will provide connectivity. Neither was operational on our demonstration flight.
Pushback, Taxi, Departure
My seat was 11A, which was in the Economy Xtra section which was reserved for press and some vendors. It was quite comfortable in spite of its slimline appearance.
All of the TAP Executives, honored guests, and employees and other members of Airbus staff took the Business Class section of the flight. With the party atmosphere, none of the seats would be occupied for very long – in any cabin.
At 2:45 pm local time, we began our pushback, and the engineers that joined the media on the flight began their work with the testing phase for certification.
The testbed A330neo, registered as F-WTTN, bidding us farewell as we began our taxi to the active runway.
The Captain’s announcement followed, welcoming us onboard the flight.
Once our taxi concluded, we heard the Trent 7000s quietly come alive as it began to launch us down the active runway at 3:15 pm local time.
With the light payload even with nearly half the aircraft filled, the A3330neo lifted off the ground from Toulouse runway 32R with a full throttle take-off and quietly rocketed it into the sky as what felt like a significantly rapid climb.
Powerful but quiet 35 second take off roll from TLS powered by RR Trent 700 pic.twitter.com/FQ5FojA6Hb
— Chris Sloan (@airchive) June 19, 2018
About half an hour after departure, we had ascended to our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
As the flight is around an hour and a half, we did not have long at all to enjoy the aircraft in-flight. Inside the cabin was very quiet, due to the lack of engine noise in the Trent 7000s that power the aircraft.
Once aloft, TAP CEO and Neves and Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Eric Schulz took over the PA and then the flight turned into a press conference.
Schulz kickstarted the speaking by saying: “It’s a great pleasure for all of us at Airbus to welcome you on board. I would like to welcome all of our colleagues at Airbus and TAP Portugal. We thank TAP Portugal for their fantastic partnership over the past few years. We thank you for your business and your confidence.”
Neves went on to say “It’s a great day for TAP. It is a long long partnership. We went from the A330 to the A350 and then back to the A330 again. We are very excited about this aircraft. We have experienced a lot of growth. The airline is growing from 15-20% every year. With the long-standing partnership with Airbus, we can continue this growth. We have great plans ahead of us. The future is here, and we are really excited about it. Special thanks to our crew members, our team, who have done a fantastic job.”
Food and drink consisted of a champagne toast and a Bouche snack of shrimp, pâté, and scones. The special cabin crew rostered for the flight cheerfully and skillfully navigated around the throngs of people in the aisles. This was no easy task, especially given the massive press presence on this flight – easily, the most I have ever seen in the air.
My seat in 11A was the Economy seat CL3710 from Recaro with pivoting and adjustable neck support, which was sufficiently comfy. Seat 11A provides a good wing view also.
With all of the Executive Class cabin full and nearly half of the rest of the plane, it was organized chaos. No one person wanted to stay in their seat, especially with the program being such a special flight.
The Panasonic eX3 IFE interface looks very attractive and features audio jacks as well as a USB charger, which was handy for me.
Unfortunately, as this was a test flight, it wasn’t loaded with content so I wasn’t able to review it – not that there would have been much time for that! The safety briefing was done the old fashioned way, by providing a visual demonstration to those onboard.
The atmosphere during the cruise was quite convivial and enthusiastic. Flight attendants kept gently reminding people to not step on the test equipment which was exposed in parts of the cabin.
— Chris Sloan (@airchive) June 19, 2018
The highly vaunted AirSpace lighting program in the cabin during the cruise was a bit underwhelming but as this was a factory program, the official product for AirSpace interior will all be revealed in due course. TAP will debut their own branded program when the aircraft launches.
TAP’s Premium Cabin’s center-aisle bins will likely detract from the full effect.
The lavatories look very smart onboard the aircraft and it features quite a spacy sink and spacy toilet so then there is enough room to maneuver yourself around.
About 25 minutes from landing, we commenced our descent from 35,000 feet. Beyond the obvious spooling down of the Trent’s, even the retraction of the flight control surfaces were a very silent affair. It was almost imperceptible.
And touchdown! The TAP A330neo has arrived for tonight before heading onto Rio tomorrow and then back to Lisbon after just a few hours on the ground. She’s going to be working hard for the next few weeks with mere hours on the ground simulating real-life airline conditions. pic.twitter.com/C6v2bCTzRJ
— Chris Sloan (@airchive) June 19, 2018
About a couple thousand feet away from touchdown, the flaps on the brand new aircraft started retracting into the approach position as we headed towards the ILS.
From that moment, the descent continued at a steady rate before the aircraft touched down perfectly at 3:43 pm local time to conclude what was a very quick but productive flight onboard AIB339.
Flight Global reported that “under 20t of fuel, and a weight of 164t, with a projected landing weight of 156.8t. The crew confirmed, after touchdown on Lisbon’s on runway 21, that the twinjet had burned 8t of fuel.”
This demonstration showed a few things: the A330neo is the big next step in the conclusion of Airbus’ collective and common family of aircraft.
For TAP, an airline already punching above its weight makes history by becoming the launch customer of a new flagship. For Airbus and TAP, things are looking muito bom indeed.
A hangar party for a very special guest: The first @Airbus #A330-900neo which will be delivered to an an airline. Congratulations to @tapairportugal , Airbus, & @RollsRoyce! pic.twitter.com/mdrhmrC8bV
— Chris Sloan (@airchive) June 19, 2018