The Airbus A330neo vs A330 – What’s the difference?

One of the biggest battles currently raging in aviation is the A330neo vs the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

But what’s the difference between the older A330 series and the newer ‘neo’ variant? Why is one incredibly popular, and another has only sold eight aircraft? Let’s find out!

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Airbus A330 vs A330neo. Which is better and what is the difference?

First a history lesson

The A330 was first conceived way back in the mid-1970s, as a way to meet the growing demand for high-capacity, medium-range, transcontinental trunk routes. It was originally a derivative of the A300, dubbed the A300B9, and would be a competitor to the DC-10. Airbus wanted to create a version of the A300 that had the most powerful engines possible, but found that customers were leaning towards a bigger variant that had four engines (and would later become the A340).

Airbus would reveal the A330 to the world just before the 1987 Paris Air Show, with 41 aircraft sold to ten airlines. French airline Inter Air became the launch customer, flying the first A330 in 1994 from their Paris hub.

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Airbus A330 became a competitive option to the original Boeing 777 Source: Simple Flying

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 twin-jet aircraft, but they chose to follow through with the A340 with four engines, rather than expanding the A330 program. This allowed Boeing to move ahead with the more fuel-efficient Boeing 777 program and win a larger share of the twin-jet twin-aisle market.

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 a cost of fewer passengers.

Enter the NEO variants

When engine manufactures Rolls Royce built new engines for the Boeing 787, owners of the A330 looked at each other and asked why couldn’t the A330 have these advanced fuel-saving machines? Airbus reworked the design and came to the table with a more fuel efficient creation.

However, these aircraft have not been very popular, with only eight orders of the smaller -800 variant to Kuwait airlines. Airbus hopes that as airlines see others such as TAP Portugal fly the craft (they only recently started flying last year) orders will increase.

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

Comparing both variants

Because there are so many versions of each of the A330 and A330neo, we will need to find a common way to list them together. Below we have created a table that ranks them according to when they were built.

VariantPassengers (Two class)Range
A330-30030011,750 km / 6,350 nmi
A330-20024613,450 km / 7,250 nmi
A330-800neo25715,094km / 8,150nmi
A330-900neo28713,334km / 7,200nmi

Looking at the chart above, we can see that Airbus has been in a slow retreat from having large passenger numbers. This may be due to the fact that they also sell the A340, A350 and the A380 which all carry far more passengers and they don’t want to cannibalize their sales.

But looking at the range we can see how engine technology has improved over time. The -800 easily flies another 1000 nmi more than the -200 (its predecessor) and the -900 more than the -300.

The NEO versions are designed to have better fuel efficiency, better passenger comforts and carry more passengers further. But the A330 has been far more successful, racking up 1,734 orders compared to only 280 A330neos.

Which do you think is best? Let us know in the comments below. 

18 comments
      1. I Don’t bother paying attention to someone who says an article is inaccurate and mileading but does not say why he thinks so.

      2. It’s misleading because the A330neo is new, and hasn’t been for sale for very long. You can’t have the same amount of orders compared to the outgoing model that has been on sale for 3 decades.

  1. The A330 neo was timed as a replacement for ageing A330 ceos that will soon need to be retired. Concurrently, the aircraft can be regarded as a potential 767 replacement / NMA substitute. Very importantly, the A330 neo is very much cheaper than a 787, A350 or 777X, and is thus attractive to long-haul LCCs (e.g. Air Asia). Orders for the A330 neo may soon start to pick up — especially as the retirement of the first wave of A330 ceos (and 767s) starts. Who, for example, would have expected Emirates to order the A330 neo?

  2. It makes no sense to compare sales for A330 and A330neo . The neo is intended to replace the original 330 which has been in service for over 20 years , and can be expected to replace many retiring 330s. The A340 and 330 were basically the same design with either 2 or 4 engines, for medium range or very long range when ETOPS requirements precluded long over water flights on 2 engines. The 340 is long out of production.

  3. As a supplemental remark, for comparison purposes:
    – The 777 (original versions) has 1689 sales.
    – The 777X has 344 sales so far.
    As far as I know, the sales figure of 1734 quoted in Nicholas’ article is for total sales of A330 ceos and neos; the sales figure for ceos alone is 238 lower = 1496.
    For both the A330 neo and the 777X, the current orders figures are much higher than in the introductory phase of the A330 ceo and 777; so, from that point of view, these new airframes aren’t doing badly. However, 777X orders are heavily skewed toward the ME3 carriers, so those orders may be shaky.

    1. Ah Nigel yes I have made a mistake. I took the total sales of the entire A330 program (including the NEO) rather than just the original A330s.

      I think a better comparison is to look at the sales of the aircraft within the first year (or before it starts to fly) to determine if it’s popular. But with all things, there are far more airlines flying today than there were (just look at the sales numbers of the original 707 or A300)

  4. Thank you for this article
    I think the A-330 neo is a great option for many city pairs

    I am looking forward to flying the A-330 neo, and seeing the new cabin interiors with upgraded baggage bins, lighting, toilets…

  5. I feel like the improvements to the A330 were not neccesary. The A330 was extremely popular as a workhorse on hot routes in Asia which were mostly mid haul. The range and efficiency increases also increased price, which made it unattractive to Asian carriers, who were the primary users. The intent appears to have been to compete with the 787, however most carriers who could use aircraft in that market segment already have the 787, sticking the A330neo in an uncomfortable position.

    1. With rising fuel prices, the increased operating economics of the neo relative to the ceo may be attractive enough to offset the higher acquisition cost. Also, the lower noise footprint of the neo is increasingly becoming a necessity rather than a luxury, as airports clamp down on noise and pollution (under pressure from environmental movements). Time will tell what way the chips fall…

  6. The A330neo program cost $2Bn and already has 239 orders. The 787 program cost over $30Bn and with over 1400 orders is still under water. The A350 program cost $15bn and has 890 orders whereas the 777x program cost $5Bn and has 340 orders. The number of orders won is not necessarily an indication of business success. Also Boeing and Airbus classify orders differently making side by side comparisons difficult.

  7. Guys I really like what you do and the insights you provide however on this one, you’ve been misleading in a heap of ways. It would simply take you a visit to the Airbus website to gain a sense of some of the additional changes to the A330neo (yes I know it stands for New Engine Option) interestingly the neo also has a new wing designed some of which is borrowed from the A350 and has been performance enhanced.

    Also the economics of the A330neo are impressive and like Delta Airlines replacing their B767 with A330neo is giving them a huge competitive edge from so many angles – range, price, capacity, fuel efficiency to name a few.

    Of course if I get started on the original config of the B787 it was to be a 2-4-2 in the main cabin (same as the A330). The problem was the economics didn’t work so let’s shrink the seat size down to under 17inches of a long haul jet and put 3-3-3 in! Ahhhhh so much better for airlines but not for passengers.

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