The Airbus A330neo vs A330 – What’s The Difference?

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Airbus is trying to sell its latest-generation version of the twinjet Airbus A330neo. This aircraft is an update to the older A330 series. However, what’s the difference between the older A330 series and the newer ‘neo’ variant? Why is one incredibly popular, and another has only sold a few aircraft? Let’s find out!

Airbus A330neo
Airbus launched the A330neo six years ago as a replacement to the A330ceo family. Photo: Airbus

It is first important to recognize where the A330neo stands. One of the biggest battles currently raging in aviation is the A330neo vs. the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The A330neo is a competitor, though it has underperformed compared to the 787 Dreamliner when it comes to sales.

The development of the A330 family

In June 1987, just four months after the Airbus A320 made its maiden flight, Airbus announced ambitious plans to launch a medium-to-long-range A330 twinjet. There would also be a longer-range Airbus A340, a four-engined aircraft.

At the time, the Airbus A330-300 was expected to carry 335 passengers in two classes. The A330-200 would come later on.

A330
The A330-300 made its maiden flight on November 2nd, 1992. Photo: Airbus

This is where Airbus made a mistake with the development of the A330. As we discussed in the A330 vs. Boeing 777 article, Airbus was first to market with the large twinjet aircraft, but they chose to follow through with the A340 with four engines rather than expand the A330 program at first. This allowed Boeing to move ahead with the more fuel-efficient Boeing 777 program and win a larger share of the twinjet twin-aisle market. Although, the Boeing 777 is a little too big compared to the Airbus A330.

Airbus would then go on to create a smaller and lighter A330, dubbed the A330-200. This aircraft would have the advantage of a better range (perfect for airlines located in the Pacific, such as Cathay or Singapore) but at the cost of fewer passengers. The first Airbus A330-200 would take flight in 1997.

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A330-200
The A330-200 made its maiden flight about five years after the A330-300. Photo: Airbus

Enter the A330neo

With the Boeing 787 heading into the market and Airbus working hard on the A350, the planemaker also took a look at the Airbus A330neo. In 2014, Airbus launched the A330neo family comprised of both the A330-900 and the A330-800.

A330 and A340
The A330 and A340 were launched at the same time. Photo: Getty Images

These aircraft were designed to be more fuel-efficient with Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines powering them. Building off of years of advancements, Airbus turned to engine manufacturers for a more fuel-efficient engine to give the Airbus A330neos attractive economics that would open it up to more sales.

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However, these aircraft have not been very popular or as popular as the old Airbus A330 family. In fact, Airbus has only sold 14 Airbus A330-800s, making it one of Airbus’ rarest aircraft. This includes four undisclosed customers, two for Uganda Airlines, and eight for Kuwait Airways.

A330-800
The Airbus A330-800 made its maiden flight in November 2018. Photo: Airbus

The Airbus A330-900, however, has sold over 300 jets. Some notable customers for the A330-900 include AirAsia X, Delta Air Lines, Cebu Pacific, Garuda Indonesia, and Virgin Atlantic, among others.

Airbus hopes that as airlines see others such as TAP Portugal fly the craft (they only recently started flying the aircraft after taking the jet in late 2018), orders will increase. Thus far, however, airlines have not yet caught onto that. Not to mention, the current crisis has not led many airlines to open their pockets for more aircraft.

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TAP Portugal A330neo
TAP Portugal was the first airline to take delivery of the A330neo. Photo: Airbus.

Looking at the Airbus A330s

For this article, Simple Flying will focus on the Airbus A330 passenger family. This includes the A330-200, A330-300, A330-800, and A330-900.

Here are, for example, a few basic points of comparison:

Capacity:

  • A330-200: Maximum seating of 406, a three-class capacity of between 210 and 250
  • A330-300: Maximum seating of 440, a three-class capacity of between 250 and 290
  • A330-800: Maximum seating of 406, a three-class capacity of between 220 and 260
  • A330-900: Maximum seating of 440, a three-class capacity of between 260 and 300

The A330-800 is a successor to the A330-200, while the A330-900 is a successor to the A330-300. The difference here, however, is that the A330neos have a higher floor in terms of capacity. So, an airline that has an A330-200 can upgrade capacity without sacrificing fleet efficiency.

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A330neo
The Airbus A330-900 is a successor to the A330-300. Photo: Airbus

Range

  • Airbus A330-200: 13,450 km/7,250 nm
  • Airbus A330-300: 11,750 km/6,350 nm
  • Airbus A330-800: 15,094 km/8,150 nm
  • Airbus A330-900: 13,334 km/7,200 nm

The clear winner, out of all of this, is the A330-800. The aircraft, which not only has the room for more passengers, can also fly those passengers further.

Another thing to note is the A330-900, a successor to the A330-300, can fly almost 2,000 km (almost 1,000 nm) further than the A330-300.

Range, however, also depends on an airline. A dense passenger configuration flying more people means an aircraft will have difficulty getting to the maximum edge of its range. A less dense configuration means a lighter aircraft with fewer passengers, seats, etc. means an aircraft can fly a little further than a denser A330.

A330neo
Delta, which also operates the A330ceo, was the launch customer for the A330-900. Photo: Airbus

Dimensions

 Cabin LengthMaximum Cabin WidthWing SpanHeight
A330-200147 ft 8 in / 45 m17 ft 3 in / 5.26 m197 ft 10 in / 60.30 m57 ft 1 in / 17.39 m
A330-300165 ft 3 in / 50.36 m17 ft 3 in / 5.26 m197 ft 10 in / 60.30 m55 ft 1 in / 16.79 m
A330-800147 ft 8 in / 45 m17 ft 2 in / 5.26 m210 ft / 54 m57 ft 1 in / 17.39 m
A330-900165 ft 3 in / 50.36 m17 ft 3 in / 5.26 m210 ft / 64 m55 ft 1 in / 16.79 m

The A330neo jets are essentially the same size as their predecessors. This has its own benefits. Airports do not need to be upgraded; airlines already know how to work with the aircraft’s size in hangars, etc. The operational efficiency with the original A330 family makes the A330neo a strong sell for the replacement for the A330-200 and A330-300 family.

Why is the A330neo not selling?

The A330neo versions are designed to improve fuel efficiency, improve passenger comfort, and carry more passengers further. However, the A330neo has been far more successful, racking over 1,400 orders compared to just over 330 A330neos.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, the A330-200 and A330-300 are relatively young as far as widebodies go – especially the A330-200. So, Airbus launched the aircraft a little too soon compared to the replacement cycle.

Kuwait Airways A330
Kuwait Airways is the largest operator of the A330-800. Photo: Airbus

The other consideration is that the Airbus A330neo came later than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, its competitor. By the time the A330neo burst on the scene, the 787 Dreamliner had already racked up orders, leaving little room for Airbus to find new customers for its A330neo, thus limiting sales.

However, in the future, there may be room for the A330neo in a few years. Once airlines rebound, once aircraft age even more and airlines start to look for newer aircraft that need less fuel, can fly further, and need less maintenance, than the A330neo could get a few looks from customers.

In the meantime, A330neo operators seem pleased with the jet. Delta Air Lines and TAP have used the aircraft on some high-profile routes and have also put their latest and greatest products onboard.

The A330-800 obviously needs to sell better. With only 14 confirmed orders, that program has done even worse than the Airbus A380, widely regarded as a failure.

Hopefully, once Kuwait Airways and Uganda Airlines put the jet in service, more airlines may take a look at the jets– especially if the A330-800 does better than expected in terms of its operating economics.

Do you prefer the Airbus A330 or A330neo family? Which is your favorite A330 variant? Let us know in the comments below. 

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