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Airbus A330-900 successful maiden test flight

The A330-900 first flight on 19 October 2017 debuts the 1,400 hours flight test campaign involving three prototypes plus the first production aircraft : 1,100 flight hours for the A330-900 and 300 flight hours for A330-800, targeting a mid-2018 EASA and FAA Type Certification. The 4h15 flight reached 30,125 ft (9,182 m) and 502 kn (930 km/h). It should establish certain maximum operating points and achieve an initial handling qualities assessment including at high angle of attack. This first aircraft, MSN1795, is scheduled to perform 600h and is to be joined next month by the second, MSN1813, which will fly 500h, before the third, MSN1819, the first customer aircraft for TAP Portugal with a complete cabin.

At the Boeing 787 launch in 2004, Airbus' response was at first an improved A330, but after negative feedback from airlines and lessors the A350 XWB became a new design in 2006. After the A320neo launch in December 2010 and its commercial success, Air Asia's boss Tony Fernandes said he would like Airbus to re-engine the A330. New engines like the GEnx or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 developed for the 787 could offer a 12%-15% fuel burn improvement and sharklets at least 2%.

Airbus sales chief John Leahy's argument is that the lower purchase price of an A330 even without new engines make the economics of buying an A330 competitive at midrange routes with that of the Boeing 787. An A330neo would accelerate the demise of the A350-800, close in size. Airbus is also considering re-engining the A380, but is wary of having two major modification programs simultaneously.

In March 2014, Delta Air Lines was interested in it to replace its Boeing 767-300ER. In the 250-300-seat market, CIT Group believes an A330neo enables profitability on shorter ranges where the longer-range A350 and Boeing 787 aren't optimized. Steve Mason, CIT vice president for aircraft analysis, said "The A350-800 is not as efficient as they'd like". Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman and CEO of Air Lease Corp., said, “We don't believe it is rational for us to take the A350-800 and the A330neo I don't see the A350-800 surviving if they do the A330neo”.

AirAsiaX flights to London and Paris from Kuala Lumpur were scrapped in 2012 since Airbus A340 weren't fuel efficient enough; AirAsiaX will try again with A330s. As Airbus gradually increases output of the new A350, prolonging the production run of the A330 could help to maintain profitability. As Emirates cancelled 70 orders for the A350, Airbus said it continued to work on re-engining the smaller A330.

On 14 July 2014 at the Farnborough Airshow, Airbus launched the A330neo programme, to be powered by the new Rolls-Royce Trent 7000. It will improve the fuel burn per seat by 14%. Airbus hopes to sell 1,000 A330neo aircraft. Its range will increase by 400 nautical miles (740 km) and although 95% of the parts will be common with the A330ceo, maintenance costs will be lower. New 3.7 metres wider A350 XWB styled winglets, still within ICAO category E airport requirements, and new engine pylons will improve aerodynamics by 4%.

The larger 112-inch Trent 7000 is 11% more efficient than the 97-inch previous engine, a 2% loss is due to increased weight and 1% due to additional drag from the larger engine, but the sharklets and aero optimization regains 4% for a 12% fuel advantage per trip. Furthermore, fuel consumption per seat is improved by 2% due to the rearranged cabin (Space-Flex and Smart-Lav) with increased seating, offering a 14% fuel burn reduction per seat for the new −900neo compared to the previous 235-tonne −300 version. The newer 242-tonne −300 is already 2% more efficient.

Its development costs will have an impact of around -0.7% on Airbus Return on Sales target from 2015 to 2017,an estimated Bn $2 billion). Airbus thinks lower capital cost makes the A330neo the most cost-efficient medium-range wide-body aircraft in the market. Airbus says that it can pursue demand for 4,000 aircraft and says there is an open market for 2,600 jets not already addressed by backlogs with operators already using A330s. Aerodynamic modifications are to include a re-twisted wing and optimised slats.

Airbus believes the A330neo derives much of its market advantage from being a less expensive wide-body positioned to serve high density routes shorter than 4,000 nautical miles that otherwise would be served by aircraft primarily designed for routes of 8,000 miles. Ed Greenslet, editor of Airline Monitor, said that the A330neo could create a monopoly in that segment, because the Boeing 767 is "essentially out of production" and the only other aircraft suited for it is the Boeing 757; the largest Boeing 737 does not have the passenger capacity to compete effectively. A major upgrade program for the A330 could also cause problems for Airbus. The re-engined A330 would be launched into a twin-aisle market already crowded by the Boeing 787, 777X, and Airbus A350, and could take sales from other Airbus aircraft.

John Leahy estimates that the A330-900 will have operating costs on par with the 787-9, but will be available at 25% lower capital costs and can reach a production rate of 10 per month after a 7/8 per month rate at the production start. Both A330neo variants are to have a maximum take-off weight of 242 t. The type design was frozen in late 2015.

Airbus unveiled a distinctive cockpit windscreen to be featured on the A330neo, similar to that on the A350. Airbus will introduce its new interior concept that promises a better passenger experience on the A330neo. Initially based on the largest 242t MTOW A330, Airbus is studying an improvement to 245 t (540,000 lb) MTOW for the A330neo, which would match the figure originally given for the Airbus A350-800 before it was sidelined in favour of the A330neo. This would give the -900 a 7,000 nmi (12,964 km) range to better compete with the 787-9’s 7,635 nmi (14,140 km).

Along the 19 October 2017 first flight, the MTOW was announced to increase to 251 t (553,000 lb) by mid-2020 with a few changes to the landing gear and brakes, increasing its range by 700 or 1,000 nmi (1,300 or 1,900 km) and compared to the current A330neo or A330ceo.

Since the fan is enlarged from 97 to 112 in (250 to 280 cm), the nacelles are mounted higher, necessitating extensive CFD analysis to avoid supersonic shock wave interference drag, as is the first slat’s dog-tooth. The wing twist and belly fairings are tweaked to approach the lowest drag elliptical span-wise pressure distribution changed by the larger sharklets, like the flap track fairings shape to lower form drag.

The Trent is the exclusive powerplant, the British manufacturer offered better terms to obtain the exclusivity. Customers bemoan the loss of competition among engine makers : Steven Udvar-Hazy, CEO of Air Lease Corporation, said that he wants a choice of engines, but Airbus has pointed out that equipping a commercial aircraft to handle more than one type of engine adds several hundred million dollars to the development cost. The head of Pratt and Whitney said "Engines are no longer commodities...the optimization of the engine and the aircraft becomes more relevant."

The decision to offer the aircraft with only one engine option is not unique to Airbus; the Boeing 777X will come equipped exclusively with General Electric GE9X engines, after Rolls Royce made a bid with its Advance configuration but was not selected.

The first aircraft left the paint shop in December 2016, awaiting its engines. Its first flight was delayed until September 2017 after the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000s are installed during the summer; they should arrive before the end of the first half of 2017, when the first flight was initially scheduled. After this delay, TAP Air Portugal could receive the first A330neo at the end of the first half of 2018, or even in the third quarter. The engines were shipped to Airbus in June. The aircraft complete with engines showed at Toulouse in September before its first flight.

Both the A330-800neo and A330-900neo will retain the fuselage lengths of the A330-200 and A330-300, respectively. Cabin optimisation allows 10 additional seats on the A330-900neo (310 passengers) and six additional seats for the A330-800neo (252 travellers) with 18-inch-wide economy seats. The -800 should cover a 7500 nm (13,900 km) with 257 passengers (406 max) while the -900 should travel 6550 nm (12,130 km) with 287 passengers (440 max).

Independent analysis for a 3,350 nm transatlantic flight show the 787-9 has a slight advantage over the A330-900neo in cash cost per available seat miles, while the Airbus outperforms the Boeing once capital costs are included. Since the 2004 launch of the dreamliner, the market was split almost equally between both aircraft, with 900-920 A330s sold against 950 to 1,000 787-8/9s.Teal Group's Richard Aboulafia opinion is the A330neo should dominate the low end of the twin aisles range/capacity because the 787-8, designed for 8,000-nm+, has the high operating economics and unit price associated.


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