Pressure mounts on Airbus A330 in order battle

PARIS: Imminent airline decisions on $10 billion of wide-body plane orders could influence the fate of Airbus’ A330neo even before the recently upgraded jet completes flight trials, industry sources said. A Tuesday announcement from Hawaiian Airlines that it had dropped its order of six Airbus A330neos in favour of 10 787-9 Dreamliner jets by rival Boeing was a sharp blow to the suffering wide-body programme.
American Airlines said in January it was reviewing the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and shorter-range Airbus A330-900, which is in test flights before entering service this summer.
The US airline aims to buy some 25-30 wide-body jets and could make a decision in coming days, one of the sources said.
“We are still evaluating our widebody options,” a spokesman for the airline said.
Even Boeing’s most vigorous supporters doubt Airbus would give up on the A330neo, which is key for its bottom line, but the contest marks the latest in a series of battles between Boeing’s newest long-haul jet in the air, the 787 Dreamliner, and upcoming A330neo — a market-share feud that has consumed the two planemakers for the past nine months or more.
Level, a long-haul budget carrier recently set up by British Airways owner IAG, is also closing in on an order for about 8 planes in the same segment, the sources said.
“We’ll wait and see and we’ll take advantage of whatever aircraft is available,” IAG boss Willie Walsh said on Tuesday.
Airbus has had patchy results with the latest version of its money-spinning A330, relaunched in 2014 with efficient new Rolls-Royce engines, and has made boosting sales one of its top priorities this year.
A330 family output has fallen to six a month from a peak of 10, making the success or failure of Airbus’s only profitable wide-body line a key topic for investors.
“The A330 makes money and generates cash, while absorbing a great deal of overhead,” said Sash Tusa, aerospace analyst at Agency Partners, adding that its long list of customers was useful to Airbus when it came to marketing other planes.
Jitters over the future of the A330neo became apparent when AirAsia, one of Airbus’s largest customers, toyed with the idea of switching to Boeing’s 787.
Its decision to uphold an order for 66 jets, first reported by Reuters, eased pressure on the A330neo but analysts say that could change if it feels too exposed as the dominant buyer.
The last major A330neo order was for 28 planes from IranAir but doubts are growing whether that can be implemented any time soon due to US concerns about a nuclear sanctions deal.— Reuters