Airbus Group NV (AIR) is preparing to announce more fuel-efficient engines for its A330 jet at the Farnborough Air Show next week as it seeks to extend the popular wide-body’s lifespan, people with knowledge of the plans said.
The planemaker wants to introduce the revamped Neo model at the world’s largest aviation expo, said the people, who asked not to be identified because discussions remain private. Airbus, based in Toulouse in southern France, has lined up a sufficient number of early customers to proceed, including AirAsia Bhd (AIRA) and several leasing companies, two of the people said, though a final go-ahead requires approval from the company’s board.
Airbus, which has open production slots for the twin-engine A330 from 2016, was successful with a re-engined version of the single-aisle A320, turning it into the fastest-selling jetliner in civil aviation history. The A330 competes with Boeing Co. (BA)’s 787 Dreamliner, and while the plane doesn’t boast cutting-edge technologies such as a fuselage made of lighter carbon fiber, it is cheaper to purchase after being in service for 20 years.
An Airbus spokesman said the company had no comment ahead of an official decision.
Airbus negotiated with London-based Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc (RR/) and General Electric Co. (GE) of Fairfield, Connecticut, about powering the plane and has settled on offering engines solely from Rolls-Royce, two of the people said. A spokesman for the U.K. company declined to comment.
The current A330 has a choice of engines from GE, Rolls-Royce and the Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies Corp. (UTX), though Rolls has won 80 percent of orders in recent years.
Rejuvenating the A330 may make the aircraft a viable alternative to Airbus’s planned A350-800, which has been selling poorly and losing orders to the larger A350-900. Airbus has encouraged customers to select bigger, more expensive versions of its latest wide-body, which will be handed over to the first commercial customer this year.
John Leahy, Airbus’s chief operating officer and lead salesman, said in June that the company could sell more than 1,000 A330Neos were the plane to go ahead.
Buyers could include carriers operating transcontinental U.S. routes and services across the Atlantic which need planes quicker than the 787 is available, as well as Sepang, Malaysia-based AirAsia, where Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes says an updated A330 would be a “killer” model that would make long-haul discount flights viable.