Moving from one generation of aircraft to the next is always a challenging process. Airframers don’t invest in a brand new type without engineers guaranteeing a significant increase in performance.
While those improvements are more and more being enhanced by treating the whole aircraft as a system, it cannot be denied that the core component of any upgrade in performance comes from the engine. Even here, the engine manufacturers have been able to extract incremental improvements by working not just on the core machinery, but on the whole integrated powerplant package, incorporating the nacelle and other dressing and how they all work together as a system.
The ability to make order-of-magnitude performance advances in the aerodynamics of an aircraft airframes has slowed, but the potential for the sizeable increases is still there for aero engines. Which is why three of the biggest aircraft family launches of this decade have actually centred around putting new engines onto well-established airframes.
Initially, of course, came the industry workhorses of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, but later came the first re-engining of a widebody with Airbus creating the A330neo family.
The first A330 was rolled out in Toulouse in October 1992. At the ceremony, then-Airbus president Jean Pierson proclaimed that the aircraft was the bedrock of Airbus’s future. “The widebody twin market is the most important single market segment throughout the foreseeable future,” he declared.
Pierson was right. The original family of the A330-200, A330-200F and A330-300 garnered 1,496 sales. Its nearest competitor from Boeing through all those years, the 777, has racked up 1,687 sales over five different models. Although both manufacturers have added other twin-aisle aircraft in the intervening years, those numbers carry immense value, so updated versions with better performance specifications made perfect sense.
Just how right Pierson was has now been underlined by Airbus’s decision to end A380 production in 2021. Since the A330neo launch in 2014, the market has continued to move to the point where a four-engined, large aircraft is no longer a requirement for airlines. Whether Pierson considered the 2020s “the foreseeable future” when he made his comment in 1992 is not known, but his certainty about the widebody twin market continues to be proved again and again.
It was therefore equally prescient that Rolls-Royce, which has similarly invested in developing powerplants for large twins, launched another new engine for the A330neo. Having gained a 58% market share on the A330ceo with the Trent 700, the company proposed the Trent 7000 for the task.
The engine has the same levels of technology as the Trent XWB which powers the Airbus A350XWB, giving it 10% more efficient fuel burn than the Trent 700. Additional ‘aircraft system’ developments on the A330neo mean that the aircraft is 12% more efficient overall in terms of the fuel it burns on a flight. The Trent 7000 is also 6 dB quieter than its forerunner.
Additionally, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has approved the A330-900neo and its Trent 7000 engines for ETOPS (extended-range twin-engine operations) “beyond 180 minutes” diversion time. The value of ETOPS 285 to A330neo operators will be the ability to serve new direct ‘non-limiting’ routings and to operate straighter, quicker and more fuel-efficient courses.
The delivery of the first A330neo took place in November 2018, launch customer TAP Portugal being the recipient. At 31 January 2019, the orderbook stood at a total of 238.
Families expand and develop. Now given extra room, the widebody twins – and their engine families – really have room to grow.