Airbus Revives Regional A330 to Broaden Appeal of Wide-Body Jet

Airbus SAS plans to sell a version of its A330 wide-body jet for regional routes with dense traffic as it seeks to broaden the appeal of the 20 year-old airliner and sharpen competition with Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner.

The European manufacturer, based in Toulouse in France, is in discussions with suppliers about reducing the thrust of the engines and making the aircraft better suited for high-frequency operations that put more strain on the plane. Airbus would also reduce the takeoff weight of the model and make it lighter to save fuel, the company said today.

“We’re focusing on those airports that are today constrained and there’s no view of a capacity increase,” Chris Emerson, the Airbus vice president of product strategy and market forecast, told journalists today on the eve of the Dubai Air Show. “For those critical airport networks the A330 makes sense.”

Airbus originally designed the A330 as a regional aircraft, before bulking up the twin-engine model to perform long-distance routes that link Asia or Latin American with Europe. Two decades into production, the A330 remains popular with airlines looking for a cheaper alternative to Boeing’s 787, and Airbus said it can have the regional model ready by 2015.

Longer Flights

Airbus is also working on a version of the A330 that can fly longer distances, also slated for introduction around 2015. The A330 was conceived together with the A340, and while the A330 has continued to sell well, Airbus was forced to end production of the larger sister aircraft because the four-engine model consumed too much fuel.

The A330 is powered by engines made by Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc -- the most popular variant lately --, Pratt & Whitney as well as General Electric Co.

Emerson said the A330 can provide airlines with the optimal balance between comfort and efficiency because it is cheap to purchase relative to the competing Boeing model. The European company has sought a marketing edge with a push for wider seats, saying its aircraft are better suited for more space as it looks for ways to eat into Boeing’s lead on wide-bodies.

The A330 sits between the smaller single-aisle aircraft that form the backbone of the commercial aviation world and the two larger A350s as well as the A380 models. There are no plans at the moment to stretch either model into an even bigger planes, Emmerson said.

“We don’t need to stretch it yet,” Emmerson said of the A380, which is the world’s largest passenger aircraft and typically seats about 525 travelers. “We still have enough room in the cabin.”

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