Airbus Introduces a New Model of Widebody Airliner

(The Seattle Times/MCT) -

On the first day of the Farnborough Air Show Monday, Airbus answered all the big strategic questions hanging over its widebody-jet lineup.

The European company launched a new model of its A330 midsize widebody jet, the A330neo.

At a news conference, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier gave clear, firm answers to the other two outstanding strategic issues.

Airbus’s widebody-jet lineup, like Boeing’s, is now firmly set.

Yes to an A330neo, with an investment of $1.4 billion to $2.7 billion. Consequently, the similar-sized A350-800 model that wasn’t selling will fade away.

In addition, Bregier gave a definite no to changing the engine in the A380 superjumbo, which Gulf carrier Emirates had requested.

And, more important to the company’s rivalry with Boeing, Bregier said Airbus will not launch a new, larger widebody with 400-plus seats to go head-to-head with the 777-9X.

Bregier denied that there is any hole at the larger end of Airbus’s widebody twinjets, where Boeing now offers the new 407-seat 777-9X.

Airbus’s largest twinjet is the 369-seat A350-1000. There had been speculation that Airbus would launch a larger A350-1100 to go head-to-head with the 777-9X. But Bregier said no.

“We are very happy with these four members: the A330-200neo, the A330-300neo, the A350-900 and the A350-1000,” Bregier said. “I don’t think there is any hole at all … We cover from 250 to 370 passengers.”

Sales chief John Leahy claimed the new A330neo will match Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner on performance and beat it on cost of operation.

He said the A330neo will have similar seat capacity to the 787, equivalent fuel efficiency, longer range in the case of the smaller versions of each jet, and much lower maintenance costs and purchase price, all adding up to a 7 percent lower ownership cost for an airline customer.

“He can say whatever he wants,” responded Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner shortly afterward. “I don’t want to give it the time of day. There comes a certain point in time when engineering physics has to come into play. The physics right now don’t support that.”

Conner said he wasn’t surprised at the Airbus decision not to launch a 777-9x rival.

“They probably have a lot on their plate,” Conner said. “They’ll try to just get by with what they have.”

“Their lineup is set. That’s terrific,” he added. “Now we can get on with it.”