Airbus SAS, which aims to boost production of its A330 to 11 planes a month from 9.5, is considering a variant of the twin-engine widebody that would extend the plane’s range or payload.
The Toulouse, France-based planemaker is talking with Rolls-Royce Plc (RR/), General Electric Co. (GE:US) and Pratt & Whitney about incremental improvements to engines and is considering other improvements including measures to reduce drag on the wing and boost fuel efficiency, Chief Operating Officer John Leahy said.
Improving performance of its only widebody plane would help Airbus extend the life of the airliner and fend off challenges by Boeing Co. (BA:US), which is weighing plans to extend its new wide- body 787 series with another version, the 787-10. For airlines, boosting the maximum takeoff weight to 240 tons from 235 to allow for more fuel or passengers would allow for higher revenue from more seats or new destinations.
“We’ve been getting a lot of requests from airlines about the 240-ton version,” Leahy said yesterday in Toulouse, France, where Airbus is based. “It looks like an interesting business proposition, as it gets you 400 miles more range and quite a few tons more payload.”
The planemaker is studying whether it has sufficient resources to accommodate the demands. Increasing takeoff weight would require some redesigning of the plane, especially to the wing, to help it cope with higher loads. Leahy said he’s aiming to have a positive answer by the Farnborough Air Show, which takes place in early July.
AirAsia X, the long-haul arm of Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia Bhd. (AIRA), is one airline interested in such a plane, as it would allow direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Paris, Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes said in an interview yesterday.
Fernandes said he has been pushing Airbus to considering putting GE’s GENX engine on the A330 to further improve fuel efficiency, though Airbus has so far resisted. The GENX is one of two engines used to power Boeing’s 787.
Airbus has won 1,199 orders so far for the A330, and delivered 871. The planemaker had originally expected the plane to be slowly phased out as the competing Boeing 787 and Airbus’s own A350 came into service. A three-year delay in 787 production has boosted demand for the A330, with the plane winning 758 orders alone since the 787 first went on offer.
Airbus’s own A350-900, which will seat 300 passengers, compared with around 250 for the A330, is scheduled to enter service by mid 2014.
A330 customers include AirAsia X, Korean Air (003490), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, a unit of Air France (AF) KLM Group, Deutsche Lufthansa (LHA) and Iberia, a unit of IAG International. (IAG)
Airbus is already building 9.5 A330s a month and is scheduled to boost that to 10 next year. Airbus would like to bring the figure to 11 by 2014, though has said that hangs on whether China comes through with a promised order for 35 A330s. The order has been held hostage to China’s objections to European Union plans to tax carbon emissions.
To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse, France at firstname.lastname@example.org
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