A330 hits order milestone, but what will the future hold?

The past 12 months have been significant in the life of the A330 programme. Twenty years on from its entry into service, Airbus confirmed the launch of the A330neo at Farnborough last year and now, just weeks after its 21st birthday, the widebody has hit the milestone of 1,500 firm orders.

While this is by no means an achievement to be sniffed at, the A330 hasn’t been able to match its rival the 777 which, despite launching 18 months later, has received 1,834 orders.

The difference is less marked in deliveries, but still the A330 lags behind with 1,174 aircraft passed over to operators compared with 1,287 777s.

And this gap looks set to increase, with Boeing confirming it will maintain current 777 production rates of 100 aircraft a year (around eight aircraft a month) as it transitions to the 777X, while Airbus has announced two cuts to A330 production rates since December 2014 – and it will manufacture just six of the widebodies a month from early 2016 ahead of the switch to the neo.

In celebrating the A330’s order milestone, Airbus lauds the A330’s popularity, with COO John Leahy saying: “The success of the A330 is such that our top ten customers have placed repeat orders for the type more than eight times on average.”

And, of course, the Toulouse-based manufacturer has high hopes for its new engine option, promising that it will incorporate some of the cutting edge technologies developed for the A380 and A350, delivering a 14 per cent reduction in fuel consumption per seat compared with the current generation aircraft.

While the A330neo has secured 145 orders thusfar, it is entering a crowded marketplace and will be competing not only with Boeing’s 777X and 787, but also Airbus’ own A350.

Ahead of the A330neo’s launch Leahy told reporters that the OEM was carefully weighing up the return on investment that the programme offered.

“I don’t mind cannibalising my competitor’s programmes but we have to be careful about cannibalising our own,” he said.

Obviously the Airbus accountants decided that there was room for both models in the fight against Boeing for widebody market share, and now Leahy says: “In the future the A330 will be operating in combination with the A350 as 85 per cent of A350 customers are also A330 customers or operators.”

Even if there is no competition between the A330neo and the A350 for orders, there is plenty of competition from across the pond.

Currently the A350 has secured 780 orders and A330neo 145, meanwhile the 787 has won 1,105 firm orders and the 777X already has a backlog of 286 orders.

It seems that Boeing’s domination of the widebody market is set to continue for some time yet.

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