Airbus’ A330-800 Won’t Be Certified This Year

The baby of the A330neo family has had its certification pushed back into the new year. Originally scheduled to be certified in 2019, Airbus’ CEO now expects it to be finalized in early 2020. With only 10 orders in place, there’s a real risk that this aircraft may never be certified at all.

A330-800 certification
The A330-800 will not be certified this year. Photo: Airbus

It had been expected that the A330-800 would be undergoing certification, well, about now. IT was previously noted by Flight Global that, in April this year, Airbus was around 50% of the way finished with flight testing the aircraft. As such, the manufacturer was expecting to receive certification of the type in the second half of the year.

But, with November rapidly approaching and no sign of certification underway, it’s clear that the timeline has slipped. This was confirmed by Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury at a financial briefing today, as reported by Flight Global this afternoon.

According to the report, the smaller A330neo variant will now be looking to certification in ‘early 2020’. Although the executive didn’t elaborate on the reasons for deferral, it could well be linked to the lagging demand for the type.

Not many orders

Up until now, the A330-800 has received only 10 total orders. This is in contrast to the 238 that have been received for its bigger brother, the popular A330-900neo. The orders received so far come from only two airlines; Kuwait Airways, who will be the launch customer, with eight, and Uganda Airlines with just two.

A330-800 certification
Uganda Airlines signed an MOU for 2 A330-800neo aircraft in 2018. Photo: Airbus

The first flight of the -800 took place in November 2018, at which point its only customer was Hawaiian Airlines. However, Boeing undercut the Airbus offer, and Hawaiian switched its investment to ten 787-9 Dreamliners instead.

On paper, the -800 is a great aircraft. Its combination of long range, high efficiency, and lower seating capacity puts it in the middle of the market, a slot that Boeing is looking to fill with its NMA, if it ever gets built. Airlines are needing a replacement for older 757 and 767 jets, and while Boeing’s NMA should fill that gap quite nicely, in the meantime, the A330-800 is a step in the right direction.

So why isn’t it selling?

One of the main problems with the A330-800neo is down to the aircraft it is intended to replace. While the Boeing brigade will undoubtedly look to the US manufacturer to replace their 767s and 757s. For those who prefer an Airbus or who operate a mixed fleet, the -800 is a bit poorly timed.

The A330-200 is still quite a young aircraft, averaging around nine or ten years of age. Most airlines will want to operate these for a bit longer before committing to a fleet renewal. As the A330-800 is the natural successor to this aircraft, perhaps it’s just a bit before its time.

A330-800 certification
On paper, it’s a great aircraft. Photo: Airbus

The other problem with the -800 is that it’s a bit too close to its bigger brother in terms of performance. Leeham News ran a comparison between the two, and noted that there is no real difference in flight crew costs, maintenance costs are around the same and navigation, landing and handling costs are roughly equal too.

The advantage to the -800 comes in its mile fuel cost, which is 7% on the -900. However, with fuel relatively cheap right now, the real-world cost saving is some 2.3%. As such, there is little to attract a buyer until fuel costs rise again.

Airbus did talk about tweaking the type by reducing the MTOW, thereby targeting the shorter routes, which would make a nice tandem with the A321XLR. However, even this might not be enough to attract more orders. Unless another airline jumps in soon, the -800 certification might never happen.