The Airbus A330 was, and is, an aircraft that pioneered the European plane manufacturer’s success in the widebody market, and today marks the 30th anniversary of its maiden flight. The A330 was the company’s first long-range twinjet, allowing Airbus to offer longer-distance city pairs like Beijing to Melbourne and London to Tokyo. It was also the first aircraft to operate on three different engine types. With over 1,500 A330s built and several loyal customers like Air China, Turkish Airlines, and Delta Air Lines, the aircraft’s legacy will live on in aviation history.

Beginnings of the A330

The A330 is a widebody aircraft developed by Airbus in the 1970s. Its conception came after the European manufacturer’s first airliner, the A300, was introduced, which was already set to pioneer a large family of aircraft. In 1973, Airbus developed a longer-range yet smaller version called the A310 but wanted to focus on the single-aisle market shortly after. With the evolution of the famous A320 family in the early 1980s, Airbus decided to return to the widebody market. Airbus says,

“The evolution of a product to replace the A300 – the world’s first widebody twin-engined airliner – was built on the strengths of the single-aisle A320 to create a bigger and truly modern long-range aircraft.”

The manufacturer proposed two aircraft: the A330, a lengthened version of the A300, and its bigger companion, the A340, a four-engine jet that would replace the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8.

By early 1986, Airbus’ supervisory board approved the development of the two aircraft, and the company could save about US$500 million due to the jets having the same fuselage and wings. Further, Airbus said pilots flying on the widebodies could also operate the A320 with “relatively little extra training,” saving more costs.

The widebody aircraft were entering a market in competition with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. However, Airbus had the upper hand as the A340 and A330 offered 25% more fuel efficiency with the same range and payload as its competitors. However, the A340 was developed first as Airbus found that most of its customers at the time were opting for four engines over twinjets.

A330 and A340

Photo: Getty Images

The first completed A330-300 – its first variant – was brought out on October 14th, 1992, with its maiden flight going ahead on November 2nd. It was a significant milestone as it became the largest twinjet to fly until Boeing’s 777 aircraft was introduced. Then on October 21st, 1993, the A330 received certifications from the European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) following more than 400 test flights. Former French airline Air Inter became the launch customer of the A330 and entered the aircraft into service on January 17th, 1994, flying from Paris to Marseille.

The A330 design

The A330 was Airbus’ first long-range aircraft and could carry between 250 and 440 passengers depending on the configuration, offering 56 more seats than the A300. The twin-engine -300 carrying 277 passengers has an improved takeoff weight of 242 metric tons, which added 500 NM of range, according to Airbus. It can now fly a maximum of 6,350 NM. Its latest variant, the A330-900, has a maximum takeoff weight of 251 tons. Compared to the A300, the A330’s earlier version was 8.46 meters longer than the A300, measuring 63.6 meters.

A year after its entry into service in 1985, a ‘fly by wire’ control system was installed into the A330 cockpit, which was first introduced on the A320. In 1998, the A330-200 was introduced as a smaller variant, with a length of 59 meters.

According to Modern Airliners, a study by British Aerospace (BAE) was conducted to use a variable camber wing that can change shape during flight, but the proposal was considered too expensive. Other family variants were later introduced, such as the A330-200F in 2010 and the Multi-Role-Tanker-Transport (MRTT) in 2011, operated by several air forces worldwide. Then in 2014, the A330neo (new engine option) was introduced at the Farnborough Air Show with two variants, including the A300-800 and 900.

AirAsia A330

Photo: Getty Images

Groundbreaking engines

The Airbus A330 is known for many striking characteristics, namely its ability to operate on three different engine types, and it became the first aircraft to offer this option. Initially, the engines were Rolls-Royce’s Trent 600, General Electric’s CF6, and Pratt & Whitney’s PW4168.

Other than Pratt & Whitney’s engine, which was designed specifically for the A330, the others required more thrust. Therefore, according to Modern Airliners, Rolls-Royce and General Electric created one more suitable to the aircraft, thus the Trent 700 and the CF6-80E1. For Rolls-Royce, the A330 marked its entry into the Airbus arena.

While the A330 succeeded, Airbus decided to develop a re-engined aircraft called the A330neo. The aircraft type offered only the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 turbofan, with improvements to its sharklets and 14% better fuel economy per passenger seat. The development of the newer model was to compete against the Boeing 787 regarding modern engines.

1327720 Airbus A330neo Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

While Airbus says the A330neo is still “powering the family into the future with its new engine and wing technology,” it has not reached the A330’s level of success. This is because while most airlines’ fleets of the A330 are still relatively young, there is no need to swap out for the more expensive version. Nonetheless, the A330neo could gain more traction amid the recent delays that have plagued 787 deliveries.

Source: Airbus, Modern Airliners


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