Airbus fights to defend A330 as order decisions loom

(Reuters) – 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.

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 U.S. 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.


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 U.S. concerns about a nuclear sanctions deal.

Now, sources say Hawaiian Airlines has dropped an order for A330neos for the 787, a switch first reported by Leeham News.

With that in mind, industry sources agree Airbus is under intense pressure to win at American, preventing further output cuts and gaining valuable bragging rights in future contests across Asia.

Keeping the A330neo in the game would also leave less space for a new mid-market plane that Boeing is thinking of launching as early as this year – a 225-275-seat model that partly competes with the A330 family.