The Airbus A330 is a medium capacity twin-engine widebody airliner for short and medium-range flights. It seats 250-440 passengers and is Airbus's most successful widebody airliner project.
The A330 is closely related to the four-engine A340, which is intended for long and very long flights. Apart from the number of engines, the two airliners are almost identical and presented by Airbus as two versions of a single aircraft type. They share the same wing, cockpit and most systems. The A330 and A340 are based on the A300 and share the same fuselage cross section with eight-abreast seating (2+4+2, sometimes nine-abreast) in economy class.
Already in the early 1970s Airbus started studies on A300-derivatives. One of these was a stretched aircraft, the A300B9 (later redesignated 'TA9' (TA=Twin Aisle)), which much later became the A330. The aircraft was aimed to replace ageing McDonnell Douglas DC-10s, Lockheed L-1011 TriStars and early A300s. (The A300B11, TA11, became the A340.) Airbus launched the A330 and A340 simultaneously in June 1987. The first A330, an A330-300, made its maiden flight on 2 November 1992, and commercial operations began with the French domestic airline Air Inter on 17 January 1994.
The A330-300 has a longer fuselage than the A300 and a much bigger wing to carry the heavier weights. In the development phase Airbus considered a variable camber wing but abandoned the idea because of high costs and extra complexity. Airbus offers the airlines a choice of three engine types: the General Electric CF6-80E1, the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 and the Rolls-Royce Trent 700.
In November 1995 Airbus launched the A330-200 with a shorter fuselage and longer range capability. This aircraft was intended as a replacement for the Airbus A300-600R and successfully competed with the Boeing 767-300ER. The first flight took place on 13 August 1997 and deliveries started in April 1998 to the now defunct airline Canada 3000.
Airbus also developed a freighter version, the A330-200F, capable of carrying a 70 tonnes payload. It first flew on 5 November 2009. The freighter is bigger than the Boeing 767-300F and smaller than the Boeing 777F. The A330-200F has a bulge under the nose to house the nosewheel leg when it is retracted during flight (Photo: Airbus). The nose wheel leg was attached to a lower position in order to attain a horizontal attitude for the cabin floor when the aircraft is on the ground. This dissolves the nose-down attitude of passenger A330s, which would complicate loading and unloading the freighter. A choice of only two engines is offered for the freighter: the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 and Rolls-Royce Trent 700. Airbus has also launched a programme to convert older passenger A330-200s and -300s into freighters (A330P2F). The engineering conversion is developed by ST Aerospace (Singapore) and most conversions will take place in Dresden at Airbus's sister company EADS EFW. The first deliveries are planned for 2016.
Airbus has improved the A330 year after year. The newest developments include an upgrade to a 242 tonnes takeoff weight for both the A330-200 and -300 to increase range and/or payload. The heavier A330-300 first flew on 12 January 2015 and the first aircraft was delivered to Delta Air Lines on 28 May 2015. The heavier A330-200 will follow in 2016.
The A330-300 Regional is a short-range variant, optimised for busy domestic routes and primarily aimed at the big Chinese passenger market. Launch customer is Saudi Arabian Airlines, which ordered twenty aircraft. The ACJ330 is a corporate jet version (see photo) and the A330MRTT is a military transport and tanker aircraft, ordered by several air forces. Airbus initially won a US Air Force contract to build the A330MRTT as 'KC-45' to replace ageing Boeing C-135 tanker aircraft, but after appeal by Boeing the contract was awarded to the US manufacturer. Boeing will build the 767 as 'KC-46'.
Airbus will also develop an A330 version of the Beluga, the special cargo aircraft which fly big aircraft components between Airbus production sites in Europe. The five current Belugas are based on the A300. The new Beluga includes the distinctive looking lowered cockpit, a big cargo bay structure and a revised rear-fuselage and tail. The first of five new Belugas will enter service in mid-2019. Airbus keeps the existing Belugas operational together with the new ones and will progressively retire them through to 2025.
- A330neo -
After Boeing launched the 787 Dreamliner, Airbus at first didn't consider this as a threat to the A330, but airlines forced the European aircraft manufacturer to think about developing a successor of the A330 or at least to complement it. Airbus in 2004 offered a re-engined A330, but airlines and aircraft lessors were not impressed. In 2005 Airbus launched a design based on the A330's fuselage with a new wing, new engines and other improvements, designated 'A350', but potential customers preferred an all-new aircraft with a wider fuselage. At last, at the 2006 Farnborough Air Show, Airbus launched the A350 XWB (Xtra Wide Body), a completely new design. The XWB is bigger, has a wider fuselage and can fly farther than the A330.
Later, some airlines appeared to be unhappy to fly very long-haul aircraft like the A350 and 787 on short sectors. The airframes of these airliners are stronger and heavier because of the big fuel capacity needed for very long flights, but the extra weight makes them less economical on short and medium-range sectors. Therefore Airbus began considering the idea to re-engine the A330 again.
So, it happened that at the 2014 Farnborough Airshow, ten years after the rejected first proposals for a renewed A330, Airbus officially launched the re-engined A330neo, which comes in two versions: the A300-800neo and the A300-900neo, successors of the A330-200 and A330-300 respectively (Image: Airbus). They have the same fuselage lengths as their predecessors, but thanks to an optimised cabin they seat up to ten more passengers. To keep development costs low, Airbus offers only one engine option for the A330neo: the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 with a bigger fan diameter (284,5 cm - 112 inch) and a bypass ratio of 10:1. Furthermore, the neo will incorporate aerodynamic refinements, including A350-style winglets. The European aircraft manufacturer promises a 14 per cent reduction in fuel consumption compared with current A330s. Entry into service is planned for late 2017. Among the first customers are Delta Air Lines, AirAsiaX, Hawaiian Air and lease company CIT.
Until mid 2015 Airbus sold almost 1,500 A330s: more than 500 A330-200s, 42 A330-200Fs, almost A330-300s and 145 A330neos.
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