February 21, 2012

Airbus to decide on A330 enhancement in second half of 2012

A350 Concept
Airbus intends to decide whether to proceed with enhancements to the A330 during the second half of this year, but is still reticent to provide many details. The airframer is studying the possibility of raising the maximum take-off weight of the A330-300 by 5t, taking it to 240t and potentially prolonging the life of the type as it develops the A350 XWB. However, its strategy for achieving the additional capability remains unclear, beyond indications last month that "sharklet" wing-tips could be adapted to the larger twinjet.

Discontinuation of the A340 potentially offers a mechanism to reduce weight, as there would be no need to maintain structural commonalities between the two types. While the A330 would have been structurally different as a "clean sheet" aircraft, Airbus would need to assess whether there is room to make any economical alterations on its production line.

Proposals for a higher-weight A330 revive a plan to create a longer-range version of the -300, discussed by the airframer more than a decade ago. That plan also aimed for a 240t take-off weight, as well as higher-thrust engines. But the A330-300's take-off weight remained at 233t until last year, when the airframer offered a 2t hike to 235t. Airbus would want to avoid any major change on the undercarriage. While it had previously considered adopting the A340's distinctive centre gear to reduce pavement loading, such a decision would simply add weight - and complexity.

All three major engine manufacturers offer A330-300 power-plants. There is no immediate evidence that Airbus is considering re-engining the A330, a move which would essentially bring the airframer back to the original A350 - a concept which received a tepid response from the market when first promoted as a Boeing 787 rival. Airbus is giving little away, although it has indicated further details could be released during the Farnborough air show.

"As part of Airbus's philosophy, we are continuously looking at the market and studying further improvements to our portfolio," said the airframer. "Any decision on whether to proceed will happen in the second half of 2012."

 Source: Flight Global

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