Is The A330neo A Risky Aircraft For Airbus?

Daniel Fowkes
18 Feb 2024
· Aircraft 
· Analysis 
When Airbus launched the A330neo, they intended for it to compete with the Boeing 787, but was it a risky investment by the plane maker?

The A330neo was launched to remain competitive in the mid-sized widebody market and address the growing rise of the 787.

The Boeing 787 was initially an aircraft Airbus didn’t see a need to offer an alternative; however, that quickly changed. The A330neos launch was a decision that continued to see the rivalry between Airbus and Boeing ensue.

However, with the aircraft not being a clean sheet and airlines having already ordered the 787, was the A330neo a risky investment for the European planemaker or was it an aircraft with a significant opportunity?

Introducing The A330neo

The Airbus A330neo, short for “new engine option,” is a twin-aisle, widebody solely designed to meet the industry’s needs and address concerns experienced in the market with Boeing’s 787 rise.

Airbus releasing the re-engined A330 acted as another option to disrupt the market while being all on the cheap. If Airbus had pushed ahead with a clean sheet, this would’ve cost a substantial amount and wouldn’t have likely repeated the rewards to justify the investment.

airbus a330neo

The A330neo comes in two variants, the A330-800 and A330-900, with the respective variants replacing the existing A330ceo variants very well.

Thanks to the Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines and other improvements implemented over its previous version, the Airbus A330neo harbours fantastic efficiency and cements itself as a leading choice in the market.

Why Did Airbus Launch The A330neo?

But why did Airbus move ahead with a launch for the A330neo? Being a re-engine, it’s not a clean sheet, like the Boeing 787, which the A330neo is often pitted against.  

Several factors spurred the development of the A330neo. Many believed at the time that Airbus was quickly finding itself in a tough spot, only offering the A350 for long-haul travel.

While some may believe that the A380 was being forgotten from the equation, and while partially correct, the A380 already showed signs of struggle.

Airbus needed to find ways to adapt and offer more alternatives in the widebody sector. Generally, the planes it produces must be worth the investment from prospective customers. Despite the A380 being a fantastic plane for the markets it worked in, it certainly wasn’t as flexible as the A350 or A330ceo.

Additionally, the A350 couldn’t lead the widebody line forever either, and Airbus needed something else.

Boeing’s 787 Success Spurred Airbus On

Focus on developing an A330neo was heightened thanks to Boeing’s performance with the 787 Dreamliner, which was a success.

Additionally, there were concerns that Airbus didn’t have an aircraft that was a true competitor to the Dreamliner. As Boeing removed its 767s, the 787 emerged strongly as a solution for some customers.

The launch of the Boeing 787 gave Airbus a lot to ponder as initially it believed the aircraft would fail. When the series would enjoy success Airbus were forced to rethink their long-term strategy and proposed an A330-200 lite. Now, the 787 and A350 are leading options for modest widebody flying.

Meanwhile, Airbus just had the A350. The A330neo was an excellent way for Airbus to release something cheaper and quicker to develop to give customers another alternative. Its quick turnaround meant it could limit the losses felt from the 787 program where possible.

Concerns Around The A330neo

It did make a lot of sense. However, there have been valid concerns surrounding the re-engined plane since the launch.

Ultimately, the series has been a slow seller and has struggled to attract the interest Airbus may have initially predicted.

However, some analysts would argue this isn’t as big of a problem as if this was a clean sheet. Clean sheets incur substantial costs thanks to the amount of resources they require.

While re-engines and advancements in existing models still cost money and require resources, they aren’t nearly as much and can be a low-risk option.

Since the A330neos launch, it has lost out to the Boeing 787 in orders and overall interest. Despite problems with the Boeing 787 series and internal issues at Boeing, the Dreamliner has still been a favourable aircraft.

Exploring A330neo Operators And Orders

Airbus has struggled to find genuine buyers for the A330neo, especially the smallest A330-800.

With just over 100 A330neos in service across 20+ operators, the aircraft’s biggest operators include the likes of Delta, TAP Air Portugal and Condor, to name a few.

However, away from these companies of operational aircraft, the commitments are minimal, with the series becoming increasingly popular for smaller and niche-based airlines.

How Boeing Has An Advantage

The Airbus A330neo’s future in the aviation industry appears to be a curious case for many.

Airlines will always look for new aircraft, especially as they prepare for future growth. However, how many opt for the A330neo is another question that remains unanswered and will only come with time.

Some carriers favour the three available variants of the Boeing 787 series. This means when exploring an A330 replacement, they’ll opt for the Dreamliner thanks to the fantastic options.

However, another important contributing factor is the high chance the interested party is already flying a variant of the Dreamliner.

Take a look at Qantas, for example. The Australian flag carrier was looking to replace its Airbus A330ceos with an aircraft, and while Airbus pitched the A330neo to keep in line with fleet commonality, it opted for additional 787s.

A Risky Investment?

Analysts would argue that the A330neo would hardly perform quite like the A330ceo did within the market. However, equally, the manufacturer was likely aware of this.

The launch of an A330neo was a quick solution to mitigate the losses felt by the growing 787 from Boeing. Additionally, it could be released on the cheap with it not being a clean sheet.

Airbus would let the A330neo grow within the market, expecting minimal orders each year but commitments that would justify the investment over time.

In some cases, the A330neo can be described as underwhelming. Some will look towards the A330-800’s poor performance, with the -900 taking most orders.

However, the A330neo remains a low-risk aircraft for Airbus to compete in a sector it couldn’t allow Boeing to run away with altogether.

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