Airbus A330neo To Compete With Boeing NMA

Airbus have said they are confident that existing aircraft will be able to compete with Boeing’s planned NMA. The proposed 797 might be more fuel efficient, but Airbus say that their A330neo and A321neo can meet airlines demands with more flexibility on price.

A330neo front
Airbus say that the A330neo will fill the top end of the NMA market. Photo: Wikimedia

With Boeing poised to make a decision on a new midsized aircraft (NMA), all eyes are on Airbus to see how they’ll respond. We previously speculated on how the A350 could be shrunk down to fill the NMA gap, or how Airbus could re-launch the A300 as an A300neo to beat the competition.

But, according to reports today, the answer is ‘none of the above’.

According to an interview with Reuters, Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer has said that they plan to defend the middle-of-the-market segment with two existing aircraft – the A330neo at the top and the A321neo at the bottom. Scherer commented to Reuters,

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“Those programs are both so mature that it gives Airbus pricing flexibility to address this middle-of-the-market segment,”

Talking like a boxer in training, Scherer went on to say that Airbus was taking a ‘left hook, right hook’ approach to the NMA situation, promoting a powerful counter punch to the proposed 797 from Boeing.

797 Concept
We still don’t know what the 797 will really look like Photo: DJ’s Aviation

Boeing are under pressure to fill the gap being left by their retiring 767s and 757s. They have the opportunity to make something far more efficient than the Airbus jets but will need to get the price point right in order to secure adequate orders.

The first punch – the A330neo

The gap that Boeing need to fill with the NMA, dubbed the 797, is a seating capacity of around 250 but with a plane that can land at smaller airports. It would be perfect for shorter, denser routes, where the Dreamliner would be overkill but the 737 family lacks capacity.

Previously, Airbus did indeed consider a smaller version of the A350, designed to compete with the Boeing 797 concept. It was called the A350-800, and they even gathered 182 orders for the planned aircraft.

A350-800
The Airbus A350-800. Photo: Simple Flying

However, it fell out of favor with both Airbus and carriers when they launched the new and improved A330neo. This highly economical version of their popular widebody jet was an adequate replacement for the A350-800, so most orders were converted to this. Those customers who wanted something larger would go on to convert to the A350-900 instead.

At the time, Airbus CEO Fabrice Bergier told Aviation Week,

“I believe all of our customers will either convert to the A350-900 or the A330neo. The A330neo is the more efficient solution (compared to the A350-800).”

A330neo
The A330neo – the more efficient choice. Photo: Wikimedia

Now, they are planning some tweaks to the A330neo to put it in direct competition with the 797 planned by Boeing. They want to re-rate the engines for a lower thrust level, reducing fuel demands and takeoff weight. They hope that this will serve to close the gap between single aisle and long range aircraft.

The second punch – the A321XLR

The Airbus A320 family is one of the world’s most well-loved (and well sold) commercial jets. The A321neo is the biggest and most advanced of this family. If Airbus are planning an XLR or even ULR version of hits aircraft, it could indeed fill the gap that the 797 is looking to occupy.

A321LR
The A321LR or a future XLR could fill the bottom end of the MOM niche. Photo: Airbus

Initial feedback suggests that Boeing are working on two versions of the 797. The first will have around 225 seats and a range of 5,000nmi, whereas the second will be stretched to accommodate up to 275 passengers, but will lose a little range, coming in at 4,500nmi. A concept A321XLR would probably seat around 220 passengers with a range of 4,700 nmi, making it a potentially good choice for carriers for whom the A330neo is just a bit much.

Will it work?

Certainly, the combination of the A321 at one end and the A330neo-800 at the other offer some serious competition to any NMA offering by Boeing. On paper, they seem to fill the gap quite nicely, but how will it work in practice?

The main disadvantage to Airbus is the fact that these are older airframes. The A330 has been around since the early 90s, and the A321 is of the same era. Both are non-composite structures, making them heavy and less fuel efficient, although they’ve had new engines added. However, bolting new technology onto old airframes sometimes isn’t the best solution.

Boeing’s 797, on the other hand, would be freshly built, with innovations from the Dreamliner and 777X a given. Composite structure will  make it more fuel efficient, and passenger comforts such as bigger windows and more comfortable cabin pressure will make it an attractive proposition.

Where Airbus do have a distinct advantage, however, is in the fact that both these aircraft are already flying. This means there is no long lead time for tooling, construction, certification and all the rest, as they are simply modified versions of planes which are already in production.

This could mean that airlines will pick Airbus, simply for the fact that they can get there first. It remains to be seen if the A330neo and the A321 can work together to fill the gap in the current market before Boeing’s 797 has even taken its first test flight.

5 comments
  1. While there is a question on a NMA market, Airbus does not have anything more than the next best thing.

    The market Boeing is dealing with is really a high end 757-200/300 or a low end 767-100/200.

    Even a 767-200 is lighter than an A330-800. Its just too much aircraft.

    Airbus is terrified. A A322 would close the gap, but its still single aisle and once you get into the 250 pax area, you need twin aisles (which were heavier and more costly)

    If Boeing can do the 797 as light as a single aisle and build it at 80 million, they have a winner.

    A lot of airlines have routes that the 767 filled nicely, its just too costly in fuel burn and cost to do so now.

    1. @Smokerr
      Not entirely true. By segmenting the market according to the boeing’s aircraft family lineups, it would make the airbus gap seems bigger and that the Boeing’s NMA is just perfect to cover it. However if we were to segment the market according to seating capacity, the Airbus gap would seem a lot smaller.
      The A321LR has an identical capacity to the B757-200, seating 185 pax in 2 class configuration and can cover 99% of the B757-200 payload-range envelop. This makes the A321LR a fitting replacement for the B757-200.
      A further stretched A322 would then be targeted at replacing the B757-300 and the B767-200 as they would all have similar seating capacities. However this is only estimated to be less than 100 aircraft in total based on the B757-300 & B767-200 previously produced.
      For the B767-300ER replacement, Airbus is pitting a de-rated A330-800 variant as a potential replacement. This proposal is a quick win – stop gap solution from airbus without any major investment, although capacity wise, the A330-800 would be closer to the B767-400ER and directly competing with the B787-8. Also not forgetting if the NMA is used only for short haul, the weight difference would have minimal contribution to the fuel efficiency, thus making the gap between the clean sheet NMA less than what is expected. This gap could be easily offset with the lower acquisition cost and the earlier availability of the A330-800.
      Therefore, if we look from the above perspective, it would seems that Airbus already has it covered where needed and the only gap remaining is a very small one.

      1. It is an interesting topic.
        I think that small twin aisle aircraft has future. Hub to hub model will not grow, direct flights will grow.
        So there is room for effective small twin aisle for medium long haul flights.
        If it will be smaller then a330 and about the same price, but more fuel effective, then it will be a win.
        Other thing is, will Boeing go threw with 797? Or they will rather built a 737 replacement?
        Because I don’t think that 797 will make them so much money as replacement for 737 will do.
        But maybe they will do both.
        Interesting few years are before us:)

  2. A330neo is simply too big. Yes the -800 has ~260 seats but has a range over 8,000nm and it’s just too heavy. More of a special mission aircraft for long, thin routes which the -900 can’t exploit. Plus the aircraft would require larger gates at airports and be unsuitable for some airports Boeing is trying to target with the NMA like LaGuardia. Even with de-rated engines it’s still far less flexible than a smaller aircraft, with the higher maintenance costs of a larger aircraft retained. For the time being it closes the gap but the NMA will surely blow it out of the water when it enters service.

    A321LR does suit the lower middle market, but is limited by capacity and I don’t think a stretch would be possible without a new wing, new engines and higher ground clearance with redesigned landing gear. Whether Airbus would commit to this I’d doubt, but once the A330-800neo is certified Airbus have no new designs on their plate, so who knows what could be next?…

  3. “and passenger comforts such as bigger windows and lower cabin pressure will make it an attractive proposition.”

    I think what you mean is HIGHER cabin pressure which represents a LOWER effective altitude that passengers inside the plane will experience.

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