Airbus Offers Short-Range A330 to Tap China’s Regional Demand

Airbus SAS will offer a shorter-range version of its twin-engine A330-300 airliner as the manufacturer seeks to tap demand from China for regional operations and extend the life of its 20-year-old model.

The variant will weigh 200 metric tons (440,900 pounds) or about 35 tons less than the standard jet, saving fuel, and incorporating cockpit upgrades from technologies used in the company’s double-decker A380 and the long-range A350, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier said today in Beijing.

Airbus has made various improvements to the A330, including a heavier variant, at 242 tons, to extend range or passenger capacity, and keep the program running longer than the company had originally thought possible. Airbus is making about 10 A330s a month and expects the model to remain in production until 2020.

“China will be one of the most important markets for this new A330 version,” Bregier told journalists. “This new lower-weight variant is optimized for domestic and regional routes in high-growth markets with large populations and concentrated traffic flows.” He predicted sales of several hundred A330-300s in coming years.

Airbus will be able to reduce the operating weight by getting rid of the crew rest area, unnecessary for shorter flights, reducing galleys, and having the plane carry less fuel.

“This makes perfect sense for Airbus, in that they don’t need to spend much on incremental improvements that will increase sales and make a good return on the investment, but it’s not going to move the world,” said Nick Cunningham, a managing partner at Agency Partners in London. “It’s a niche product and a niche market.”

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Boeing Co. is ramping up production of its 787 Dreamliner to 10 units a month. Airbus will be doing the same with its twin-engine A350, which enters service in 2014 and is expected to reach production of 10 a month by 2018, Bregier said. Those two models will largely ease the A330 from the market.

Introducing a more compact version of its A330 helps Airbus fill a gap between its biggest single-aisle airliner, the A321, and its wide-body program. Boeing’s 757, which is no longer in production, was popular with airlines for its similar size.

China is already the biggest national market for the A330, the Toulouse, France-based manufacturer’s most popular twin-aisle plane in service. A330s are widely used by Chinese carriers on domestic routes between big cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

While the current A330-300 has a range of 6,100 nautical miles (7,000 miles), seating 295 in a three-class layout, the new regional and domestic variant will be able to seat around 400 passengers on flights as long as 3,000 nautical miles.

— With assistance by Andrea Rothman, and Tian Ying

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