Speaking at a media event at the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) in San Diego, Knittel argued that "Airbus must act quickly".
Should the programme go ahead, Knittel expects entry into service in 2017; any later and it loses its business case. "The further out you get, the less sense it makes," he explained. "If they delay it too long they will miss the window and will have to move on."
The lessor foresaw demand for an A330 Neo from several "big name airlines" from the US, Europe and Asia.
Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta, has already voiced his interest in an A330 engine update, and it would likewise suit AirAsia.
But the decision to re-engine rests with Airbus, which Knittel says is analysing the demand and cost involved. A re-engine would require wing strengthening due to the additional weight but Knittel pointed out that Airbus had shown discipline with regard to additional changes, which can significantly increase the cost of redevelopment. He argued the case for simplicity and highlighted that "you get cost savings in repetition".
The president explained that Airbus is "obviously studying this in great detail" but that a re-engine is likely to be harder than most would think. He added that if costs and complications are too great, a clean sheet design may be preferable.
CIT, which still has the current A330 on order with some due for delivery this year, is not concerned about the current aircraft's residual values should a re-engine go ahead. "Just because we can have optimisation on the A330 it doesn't mean it's the end for the rest," Knittel says. He believes there is "still life" in the A330 and concluded: "We are still very bullish about the airplane but its dynamics are changing."