Last week we discussed Airbus’ A350-1000 dilemma. The -1000 will be a fine airplane, but we concluded the company needs to go forward with a larger capacity “A350-1100” to match the size of the Boeing 777-9X, but take the Boeing 787-10 approach and be content with sacrificing range in lieu of designing a new wing and engines.
Airbus’ A350 dilemma doesn’t end there. What’s it to do with the A350-800? One fleet planner told us a year or more ago that the “-800 is an expensive A330-300” with the same operating costs as the larger capacity A350-900.
Airbus has been encouraging customers to move up to the larger A350-900, with Hawaiian Airlines and US Airways the key hold outs. Conventional wisdom says US Airways will swap its order once the merger with American Airlines goes through (which is looking more and more likely, given settlement talks with the Department of Justice). American has a large order for the Boeing 787-9, making the -800 unnecessary in a combined carrier fleet plan.
There are now around 80 -800s in Airbus’ backlog, and even officials at Airbus have been ambiguous about green-lighting production of the -800, which is supposed to enter service in 2016 (after the -900 but before the -1000). We have written several posts in which we concluded the -800 would be re-sequenced to 2018, after the 2017 EIS of the -1000.
We believe there is a very good chance the A350-800 will be dropped in favor of proceeding with an A350-1100.
So what’s Airbus to do in the 250-300 seat space now occupied by the -800 and the aging A330 family?
We believe the oft-talked about A330neo will finally get to go-ahead.
A long time ago, we reported that a fleet planner (a different one from the previously reference planner) told us he expected Airbus to drop the -800 and proceed with an A330neo by the end of the decade.
Rolls-Royce and GE each have an engine that could go onto the A330: the Trent 1000 (or 1000 Plus) and the GEnx, respectively. While the original concept of the A350 involved GEnx engines and a new wing, an A330neo–if it followed the A320neo example–could be a minimal change concept. Or would it?
John Leahy once told us that a center-line gear would be required, along with other changes. The center line gear shouldn’t be an issue for the A330 since the virtually identical A340 has one. Would returning to the A350 Version 1 concept, or something similar but not quite as complex, work this time? Would we be looking at following the path of the 777X: a new wing (but not entirely new engines) and some new systems? Or would we be looking at following more closely the A320neo concept?
Airbus is focusing more on the A330-300 than the A330-200. Sales of the latter have fallen sharply in favor of the former, and recent product upgrades have been for the -300. A neo only on the -300 would make it more competitive with the Boeing 787-10 (which Boeing claims will “kill” the -300, and which has an EIS of 2018). But dropping the A350-800 means Airbus won’t have a competitor to the 787-9, which is gaining in its own sales popularity as customers move from the -8 to the -9. This suggests the A330-200 should get its own neo treatment. The -200 has a range of 7,200nm; a neo could add perhaps 400nm as well as improving fuel economy, making the airplane more competitive with the 787-9.
We believe an A330neo is likely. Otherwise Airbus will have a major gap in its product line that would demand an entirely new airplane at a time (the mid-2020 decade) when a new single-aisle replacement design will be moving toward the forefront. We don’t believe Airbus wants to tackle a new wide-body and a new narrow body at the same time.