Bloomberg claims Airbus presented plans for a future 200 tonnes MTOW (Maximum TakeOff Weight) A330neo at the A330-900 first delivery ceremony to TAP Portugal Monday. This version is specifically designed to sell into the market segment the NMA is targeting. Combined with an attack at the lower NMA end by the A321XLR, it’s part of the plan to make the NMA business case more difficult to close, by it stopping the NMA before it’s out if its chute.
We put the data of a 200 tonnes A330neo version into our performance model and could see this didn’t make sense. The longest range aircraft in the below 300 seat market would now have a range inferior even to the shortest range version of the NMA, the planned 797-7.
Talking to Crawford Hamilton, the Airbus Product Marketing Manager for the A330neo program, who presented Monday, the picture cleared. What was presented was a more structured approach to the Weight Variants Airbus always offers as part of its aircraft programs.
Weight Variants is a way for airlines to register an aircraft with the authorities which don’t have more certified MTOW than is needed for its planned use.
The fees of operating an airliner across different countries airways and to land on its airports, including fees for deplaning and loading passengers and cargo using the airport’s facilities, is depending on the aircraft’s certified MTOW.
A lower certified MTOW means lower fees. As outlined in our series “What costs dominate an airliner’s operation?” fees are one of three dominant cost items in an airliner’s operational costs.
So an airline will buy the aircraft with a certified MTOW which is the lowest possible for the intended operation. The actual physical aircraft is always the same. It can be delivered with the allowed maximum MTOW or any convenient lower value.
Delivering an aircraft with a lower MTOW than the maximum is called de-papering the aircraft. At a later date, the aircraft can be up-papered to another needed MTOW. Within the maximum physical MTOW, any delivered and certified lower MTOW is a paper only exercise.
To offer the needed flexibility and limit the work performed by Airbus, the A330neo program has decided to offer a ladder of Weight Variants for the A330neo. On the lower end, these range from 200t to 220t in 5t increments. On the high-end, the variants include the historical 233t and 238t variants and the new 242t and 251t variants.
With a lower Weight Variant, Rolls-Royce offers lower thrust variants of the Trent 7000 engines for the A330neo. The principle is the same. It’s the same physical engine, derated to a lower thrust variant with a changed software plug on the engine’s control computer (the FADEC).
The advantage for the engine is lower maintenance costs. An engine’s wear and tear is too large extent decided by the high thrust takeoff and climbs of each flight. The lower maximum thrust needed by a lower MTOW aircraft will reduce the wear on the engine.
This will increase the engines time on wing and therefore lower its maintenance costs. Weight variants with MTOWs around 200t could be configured with a 68,000lbf thrust variant of the Trent 7000, by it saving something like 10% or more of the maintenance costs.
An A330neo which shall take market share away from the NMA is aimed at the larger NMA, the 265 seat 797-7. This has a nominal range using Boeing rules of 4,500nm.
Using the same cabin type and rules for passenger weight etc. the A330neo would be an A330-800 with 210t MTOW to match the range of the 797-7. It would then seat 304 passengers which it can fly 4,500nm with Boeing rules.
The attractiveness of the A330-800 would be it can be certified to any 5t increments up or down to suit the range and capacity the airline needs for its route network. It can also later be changed to a true long-range aircraft by changing the paperwork to the maximum capacity, 251t and 7,800nm range, with this cabin type and rules.
It would also be available from next year rather than seven years from now if Boeing launches the NMA and keeps its time plans.
The promise of the 797-7 is lower operating costs as described in our article series about the NMA. But this is when the NMA is performing as predicted and delivered on time. Until then the A330-800 in any convenient MTOW and therefore range or passenger capacity will have served the airline’s missions for seven years.