But the new initiatives—the 787-10, the A350-900 regional and even the A330-300 regional—are all targeted at around the 300-seat segment, the main difference being in weight and range.
Airbus says the A350-900 regional “proves to be a very strong competitor to the newly launched 787-10,” arguing that it offers the same payload/range characteristics and “comparable economics.” In other words, it is acknowledging that the A350-900 does not. However, Airbus asserts that the regional variant is actually a more pleasant aircraft than the 787-10 from a passenger perspective. In a nine-abreast configuration, the A350-900 can accommodate seats that are 18 in. wide, while the 787's are just 17 in. wide.
Furthermore, the 787-10 will operate at its maximum thrust level, according to Airbus, whereas the -900 regional will not, leading to reduced maintenance costs.
The variant can be reinstated to full range capability through changes in software and some paperwork (plus a fee to Airbus, as the lighter aircraft has a lower price). That could be an important asset for leasing companies, because it broadens the base of potential customers. It would also offer airlines the flexibility to switch from regional to long-haul flying as their networks evolve.
Few details are known about the A330 regional variant. “We are looking at coming out with a lower-takeoff-weight-version of the aircraft,” Leahy says. It will also feature lower engine thrust and “slightly improved aerodynamics,” and will be optimized “to fly four to six hours around the region.”
Ironically, that takes the A330 back to its roots. “The A330 started out as a regional aircraft, but we have grown it to do New York to Tokyo,” Leahy says, noting that it retains the capability for shorter-haul flying, too. The current average A330 sector length is 1,800 nm, but the aircraft is also used for the 74-nm flight from Doha, Qatar, to Bahrain and for the 5,400-nm sector from Honolulu to Seoul.
While some long-haul carriers such as Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines and Etihad Airways operate the A330-300 with fewer than 250 seats, some newer customers employ much higher-density configurations for shorter ranges. Sichuan Airlines and Cebu Pacific, for example, fly the -300 with more than 430 seats. Only Air Berlin, Air Caraibes, Iberworld and Air Asia X have neared that capacity for the aircraft previously.
The longest-range 242-ton version of the A330-300 is due to enter service toward the middle of 2015, with the A330-200 following a year later. Airbus is not specifying when the lower-weight, lower-thrust and shorter-range variant could enter service. That aircraft's MTOW is believed to be limited to about 206 tons.