MIAMI — The Airbus A330-800neo has taken off on its maiden flight today, putting it one step closer to its first delivery to launch, and only confirmed customer, Kuwait Airways.

The aircraft became airborne from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport at 10:35CEST, with a flight crew of three Airbus test pilots.

Experimental Test Pilots Malcolm Ridley and François Barre, and Test-Flight Engineer Ludovic Girard were in command of the first variant of the A330-800neo to take to the skies.

In addition to the flight crew sitting up front, two extra engineers—Catherine Schneider and Jose Corugedo Bermejo—sat in the cabin monitoring the aircraft’s systems and performance in real-time at the flight-test engineers (FTE) station. 

Source: Flightradar24

The aircraft departed Toulouse on a northerly heading, flying over to the Northwestern coast of France, where it performed numerous maneuvers and tests before heading back to the South of France.

Photo: Clément Alloing

Re-Visiting the Airbus A330neo Program

Airbus launched the A330neo program in July 2014 at the Farnborough Airshow with hopes to sell 1,000 examples. Only 121 planes were ordered at launch, with 214 orders amassed since then.

Source: Airbus

Though Air Asia X, the expired Transaero, and three leasing companies comprised the initial customers, Delta’s order for 25 A330-900neoss made it the official launch customer.

Thus far, Airbus’ order book has fallen short of projections with just 214 on order, following cancellations for six of the currently orphaned A330-800neo variant.

Airbus expects the sales pace to accelerate as the Boeing 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 Boeing 767, 777-200 as well as early production A330s and A340s.

Hamilton emphasized 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.

The Numbers

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 A330-800neo has been designed to carry 257 passengers—about ten more than the A330-200.

Also, Airbus has boosted the plane’s range in a considerable amount to 8,150 nautical miles, from the 7,250 that the A330-200 can fly. This represents a 12.4% increase in range with a 25% improvement in fuel burn rate.

Both -800 and -900neo variants will come equipped with the Airspace cabin by Airbus.

Photo: Clément Alloing

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.

Looking Ahead

The Airbus A330-800neo has had a shaky start to its life before it has even left the ground, struggling to take orders with only one customer signing a firm purchase agreement with Airbus.

Kuwait Airways is the only confirmed customer so far, as noted by Airbus today. The Middle Eastern carrier signed a Purchase Agreement (PA) for eight A330-800neos.

Photo: Clément Alloing

However, Uganda Airlines has a memorandum of understanding with Airbus for two of this new type.

These orders were a tremendous lifeline to the -800neo variant, especially since Hawaiian Airlines had canceled its orders in favor of Boeings 787-9 Dreamliners.

But Airbus remains hopeful. The manufacturer says that replacements for older A330-200s are a “coming wave,” and that orders for the -800neo are imminent.

“It’s [the wave] not here yet, but it’s coming soon,” Airbus said today before the plane took to the skies. 

On the contrary, the larger variant, the A330-900neo, has accumulated 257 orders, becoming a tremendous success even before the first airframe has been delivered to TAP Portugal.

Picture: Airbus.

The A330-900neo embarked on a world tour, showing the capabilities of the re-engined version of one of the world’s most successful wide-body aircraft.

Airbus has also 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.

First Flight: Success

Before the maiden flight came to an end, the Airbus A330-800neo performed a low altitude fly-past over Toulouse-Blagnac Airport.

The aircraft landed successfully after four hours and four-minute test flight, which its crew described as a ‘very good start’ for the A330-800neo.

The certification process of the -800neo is now underway, moving forward to reach entry into service with Kuwait Airlines.

Tomos Howells, Enrique Perrella, Chris Sloan, and Ben Bearup contributed to this story.