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!

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.

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.

Variant Passengers (Two class) Range
A330-300 300 11,750 km / 6,350 nmi
A330-200 246 13,450 km / 7,250 nmi
A330-800neo 257 15,094km / 8,150nmi
A330-900neo 287 13,334km / 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.