Derek Nseko, iFly Aviation
The Airbus A330 series has been in production for close to 3 decades. With over 1400 units sold, it has been one of manufacturer Airbus’ proudly successful products. Made for the middle market segment, its initial competitor was the Boeing 767. However, as it aged and with the emergence of the 787 Dreamliner, it became apparent that Airbus needed a new product with new engines and perhaps additional range capability.
Enter the Airbus A330 NEO – (New Engine Option). With this new aircraft, Airbus chose the less risky route, basing it on the already successful A330 CEO – (Current Engine option) as opposed to coming up with something completely new and from scratch. Saving both time and money. From this base, Airbus would be under less pressure to break even and would have an already happy A330 customer base to lure. However, the A330 might have been a victim of its own success, with the older A330s and even the B767 aircrafts still widely in use around the world and less customers looking to upgrade than anticipated.
But while the A330-900 has achieved relative success thus far with 323 orders, its younger sibling, the A330-800 variant has been nothing short of a disappointment, raking in a dismal 14 orders to-date with Kuwait Airways the launch customer ordering 8, Uganda Airlines ordering 2 and a further 2 by an undisclosed customer. While Air Greenland has signed an MOU for one, there is no firm order yet.
This is not to say that the 800 NEO variant is not a good aircraft. It carries 257 passengers in a conventional 3 class configuration close to 40 less than the 900 variant. However, because of its smaller weight, it flies further, up to a range of 15,000 kms. Most customers around the world prefer the capacity advantage of the 900 to the extra range capabilities of the 800. Over the shorter routes the A330 just is not that efficient as it carries more weight than it needs and has its systems and engines better optimized for the longer range.
Rolls Royce Marketing Director Jason Sutcliffe, speaking to host Jon Howell on the Aviadev Insight Africa podcast regarding Uganda’s order for two A330 NEO aircraft said: “They have got the latest Trent 7000 engines. That brings together technology from the Trent 1000 T-E-N (Thrust, Efficiency and New Technology) which is the latest Rolls Royce engine for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and technology from the Trent XWB which is on the Airbus A350 and is currently the world’s most efficient aero engine.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our perceptions about travel for the next few years if not forever. With the airline business requiring a paradigm shift to adapt to changing times, could an aircraft like the A330-800 NEO find a place in aviation’s shifting landscape? Could it be the long-range aircraft for the African market? The airline travel map is shifting towards point to point travel and African hubs are geographically placed at fairly long distances from popular destinations out of the continent. This coupled with sluggish passenger demand pointing towards lower load factors for the foreseeable future makes the NEO an interesting option to its especially higher capacity competitors. The A330-800 NEO also has a shorter runway requirement compared to its sibling. A factor that screams suitability for Africa’s aviation infrastructure. This flexibility could yet find value in new customers.
Aviation is cyclical in all facets of business. The global economy is constantly changing and very often responding to major events sometimes positively and others negatively. The aviation industry is sensitive to the most minute of these changes. Travel patterns and behaviors change and demand cycles in the industry constantly react to all these forces. The A330-800 is in essence supposed to be to the -900 what the the older A330-200 was to the -300. An alternative for a different capacity vs range and route structure.The global pandemic and its aftermath will spark a new cycle of demand in the aircraft market as we look to adapt to the Aviation industry’s new normal.
Copyright 2020 Just African Aviation Pty Ltd, Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.justafricanaviation.com as the source.