MIAMI — This week’s delivery of the first Airbus A350, the planned replacement of the A330 family, has been rescheduled for December 22. However, the A330 family is not necessarily going to be outdated anytime soon, especially since this year Airbus gave it a second lease on life with the announcement of a neo (new engine option) program for the aircraft. While we wait for the eventual delivery of the A350 to launch customer Qatar Airways, join us to look back at the A330 on this Flashback Friday.
The current generation of the Airbus widebody family, the A340 and the A330, entered service on March 15, 1993, and January 17, 1994 respectively. The economic and environmental realities that made twin-engine operations preferable over four-engine ones, as well as stiff competition from the Boeing 777 and 787 programs, led to the end of the A340 program in 2011. Another contributing factor was longer ETOPS certifications for twin-engine widebodies in the Airbus and Boeing families.
The A330 family faced some uncertainty with the launch of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 programs, especially since Airbus initially dismissed the former as serious competition. Airbus eventually concluded that a NEO upgrade for the A330 would serve as an effective gap filler for airlines that have to wait longer for A350s or 787s, as well as a viable option for carriers looking for a cheaper aircraft.
Concepts for the A330 family date back to the mid-1970s, when Airbus was looking to improve its first widebody, the A300, and to compete against other aircraft of the time, such as the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011. The upgrade program broke into two branches, the A340 and A330. By the mid-1980s, the fly-by-wire system and flightdeck of the narrowbody A320 family were incorporated into the A330/A340 studies. This would give Airbus an advantage over Boeing in terms of cockpit commonality, which mean shorter transition times for cross-training crews, for both its narrow and widebody series.
The official A330 designation came on January 27, 1986, and French domestic airline Air Inter became the launch customer on March 12, 1987. Northwest Airlines eventually would be the first U.S. customer. On October 14, 1992, the first A330 rolled out, with the maiden flight taking-off less than a month later on November 2. For two years, the A330 would be the largest twin-engine aircraft until the roll-out of the Boeing 777-200.
The program received certification by the FAA in the U.S. and the JAA on October 21, 1993. The testing program, during the Pratt and Whitney engine certification, 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.
Entry into service
Air Inter flew the first A330 passenger service on January 17, 1994. Later that year, Asian airlines Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific received their A330s. The A330 offered engines from General Electric, Pratt and Whitney, and Rolls Royce. Airbus opted for a gradual increase in ETOPS limits. The aircraft entered service with an ETOP-90 rating, which allowed one-engine or decompression operations up to 90 minutes for a suitable diversion destination. When the active A330 fleet reached 25,000 flight hours, it adopted ETOPS-120, followed by ETOPS-180 after reaching 50,000 hours. Furthermore, in November 2009, the airplane received an ETOPS-240 approval that stands to this day with the A330.
The full designation for the first in-service-aircraft was A330-300. Typical passenger layouts include 295 in a three-class configuration and 335 in two classes. The seat layout in economy is 2-4-2. Furthermore, at a maximum take-off weight of 534,000 pounds, the A330-300 can fly up to 7,020 miles. By the time the A330 entered service, it was not only targeting the DC-10 and L-1011, as originally intended, but it was also competing with the Boeing 767 family and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. The Boeing 767-300ER proved to be a worthy competitor and forced Airbus to look at A330 variants.
In response to the 767-300ER, Airbus shrunk the A330-300 by 15 feet and launched the A330-200, which offered a nine-percent decrease in operating costs, compared to this Boeing competitor. The first A330-200 flew on August 13, 1997. After six months of certification flights, leasing company ILFC took the first model and leased it to Canada 3000. A problem in the gearbox of Rolls Royce-powered of early A330-200s resulted in several inflight engine shutdowns in the Cathay fleet, including the -200s operated by its subsidiary Dragonair. These carriers grounded their fleet until resolution of the fault.
Operating characteristics of the A330-200 include 253 passengers in three classes and 293 in a two-class layout. Like the -300, the -200 can take-off at a maximum weight of 534,000 pounds. However, it can fly farther than the -300 with a range of 8,285 miles. Airbus’s next move was to introduce an A330 for the cargo market.
Airbus developed the A330-200F in response to lagging sales of older A300F and A310F freighters. Studies began in 2001, and the maiden flight took place on November 5, 2009. The -200F retains and identical size to the -200, except for a higher tail, and can carry 16,800 cubic feet (or 70 tons) of cargo. One clear external characteristic is a blister shape under the nose to store the retracted nose gear, which is longer than that of the passenger versions in order to make the side cargo door level with cargo loaders.
Airbus also developed private and military variants of the A330. In 2012, Airbus introduced a high gross weight 240-ton option for the -200 and -300. Furthermore, in 2013, the company offered customers a lower weight, high-density variant that could seat up to 400 people in one class with a focus on busy domestic and regional routes, such as those in some Asian countries.
The A330 became the first Airbus widebody to surpass 1,000 deliveries in July 2013. Cathay Pacific had the distinction of receiving the 1,000th A330. To date, There are 1,123 Airbus A330s flying. From the start of the program, 1,139 have been delivered and 1,394 have been ordered.
At this year’s Farnborough Air Show, Airbus announced that the A330 program would follow the footsteps of the A320 family by offering more efficient, longer-range neo variants. In addition to new engines, the upgraded aircraft will have a wider wingspan and winglets similar to those of the A350. Moreover, Rolls Royce will be the only engine supplier for the A330 neo.
The A330-800 neo will replace the -200 and seat 252 in a two-class layout, while the A330-900 neo replaces the -300 and will carry 310 people in a two-class layout. The -800 and -900 have a six and ten-seat increase over their predecessors respectively. Last month, Delta Air Lines ordered 25 -900s, while U.S. lessor CIT ordered 15.