Looking at the specifications for the A330neo and A350 XWB, it strikes me that the two under-development models of the A330neo are relatively similar in specification to the A350-800, one slightly shorter and one slightly longer, with corresponding variances in passenger numbers. List pricing (for what little it's worth) is approximately the same, as well.

As a result, it seems like having two distinct models competing for essentially the same market segment should just increase costs for Airbus, and it's not clear to me what the gains are. Is it easier to sell the A330neo to airlines because of it's relative similarity with the existing A330? Is the A330neo cheaper to operate than the A350 (this seems dubious given cost of operation is one of the big selling points of the A350)?

There's been some rumours about the A350-800 getting cancelled and customers pushed towards A330neo or larger A350 models; this still counterintuitive to me. Surely having a smaller range of aircraft families (i.e., A320, A350, A380) simplifies a lot (manufacturing, certification, etc.), so why increase the number of families instead of a smaller A350 model?


Mainly because of customer concerns.

Airbus, or any other aircraft manufacturer can propose a bunch of variants in its catalog, but it's the airlines that defines what aircraft are to be developed next. (On a timeline of 10 years up to 30 years - I don't recall the link, but that's Lufthansa Group's explanation.)

Since the decline of the A340s and 747s, and the success of A330s and 777s (mainly fuel saving and engine maintenance), airlines were in a rush to go twin engined while avoiding mass qualification trainings for a new type as long as possible (A350 and 787). Replacing type for the latest generation counterpart is relevant when a) investment is less than predicted gain, and b) the new type matches traveling volume.

The deal is to attract as much customers as possible from a manufacturer's point of view. The way it is now, you can expect Airbus beating Boeing at that game of both new types and neo ones as a kind of revenge over the 777 beating the A340. The only market where Boeing is still strong is on aircraft the size of the 767-300ER, and therefore doesn't need a re-engined neo-like, nor a new type, as long as no other manufacturer is capable of building a next gen version on that market. On any other Boeing vs. Airbus market, they are roughly on a draw (737s vs A320s, 777s vs A330s).

People like to say that the 787 is the successor of the 767. That can be true between the 767-300ER/400ER and a lightweight version of the 787-8, but the comparison stops there, and the 787-9 is likely to get more orders than -8 anyway. In terms of size, the 767-300ER/400ER and 787-8 are very similar. But when you have a look over payload, range, cabin width and fuel consumption, there's a huge gap, and that's what matters for airlines, not size or overall shape. Remember, the 777 was also supposed to be the successor of the 767, but ended on a completely different market.

In fact, because Boeing already has the 777-200ER/LR, it doesn't make sense to launch a successor while the 777 is still strong. That's also why the future 777-X are larger, to make room for the 787-9 and -10, and also why the -10 is supposed to be launched as late as possible.

Airbus, on the other hand, had to drop the A340 program earlier than expected, despite the launching of the -500 and -600 versions. A330s cannot be upgraded like the A340 without heavy structural changes, that's where the A350 enters the stage, and why the A330 is still a good candidate at being re-engined and improved in terms of payload and range. We can say that Airbus were always late to take the lead over Boeing, but that's the result of being as diverse as the countries involved, and the absolute need of a success in bringing the first full length double-decker widebody airliner.

Boeing also made some weird decisions, like the 747-8I (not the freighter), the 767-400ER and the 787-3 (now cancelled). The 747-8I were supposed to seduce Chinese market, and airlines that were historical customers of the 747 production line. But by the time the 747-8I entered service, twin engined long range airliners already took the lead, were proven more fuel efficient, cheaper in maintenance costs and much more versatile, which match with Boeing philosophy towards the point-to-point theory. Filling the gap between the 777-300ER and the A380 wasn't that good of a move. The 767-400ER was neither much more profitable than the 767-300ER, nor the 777-200ER on their respective routes. The 787-3 obviously aimed the Japanese market (and Chinese domestic routes) where 737s/A320s and 767s were still going well. Initially postponed after 787-9 development, it was finally cancelled. Actually, the current Airbus position about the A350 -800 is quite the same as Boeing's back then with the 787-3. Difference is, the A350-800 is larger than the 787-3, and is the direct competitor of the 787-8 and -9, and depending on travel trends, probably a strong opponent to the 767-300ER.

Knowing all that, Airbus wouldn't risk shorter or longer versions of the A330, and opted both for one type that can be stretched (A350) to fill the void created by the demise of the A340, and current A330 by increasing the operational service lifetime with the neo version. Next is up to travel trends, which is the most difficult part to estimate...

Having the latest iPlane is seducing, but not everyone can afford it.

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    $\begingroup$ Good discussion, one other factor may be having multiple production lines. Two similar aircraft may not make sense on the same production line, but if you need two or three production lines like in Asia, Europe, US then it may make sense to have some variance between them. $\endgroup$
    – Jason K.
    Apr 21 '19 at 18:48

Actually the A330neo is already eating up into the A350-800 orders so much that they have abandoned it.

“Their A350 strategy has failed -- they’re really down to one successful model,” Boeing Marketing Vice President Randy Tinseth told reporters at the Farnborough expo near London. “If they didn’t make this choice, they’d be headed for a 30 to 35 percent share in the 200- to 400-seat market.”

Customer feedback about the A350-800 spurred Airbus’s decision to abandon the plane, said Fabrice Bregier, who leads the airliner unit at the Toulouse, France-based company. Stopping work on that jet will let Airbus focus on the more successful and larger -900 model and respond to some airlines’ concerns for fixes to the biggest version, the -1000.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, the Airbus website still lists the A350-800. It sounds like there was an expectation it was going to be dropped, but it's not actually happened yet? Still, if it is dropped, let me change my question to "why introduce another model instead of a shrink of an existing one"? $\endgroup$
    – gsnedders
    Oct 7 '15 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @gsnedders The orderbook is 16, which I doubt is something Airbus will go forward with. My guess would be that Airbus is negotiating with the airlines to switch to other aircraft. Actually, 350-800 is a new aircraft, while the 330neo is basically a reengined variant with some improvements. $\endgroup$
    – aeroalias
    Oct 7 '15 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @aerolias: that is what the Wikipedia article says, quoting the AIrbus chairman over a year ago - Airbus have been encouraging airlines with A350-800 orders to switch to either the A350-900 or the A330-800neo. Then Airbus only need two A350 variants to meet airline demand. $\endgroup$ Oct 7 '15 at 14:00
  • As the years go by more people travel which means bigger aircraft are required. The a350-800 is too small and yes it will probably be canceled. Airbus has a lot of customers for the a330 and they want to sell more and if they make the a330 more efficient then the more customers want this aircraft. Thats why the 737MAX,a320NEO, a330NEO, E-(75,90,95) e-2,( and 777x are in development because of the amount of customers that aircraft has and more costumers are going to want the more efficient version.

  • The a330NEO design is to directly compete with the 787 and the 767 The a350 design is against the 777 and so their goal is to improve thrust and efficiency over the 777 with the new a350. Thats why they designed both aircraft (a330NEO, a350). Its pricey, but they make a lot of money designing both of the aircraft. The a330 is already a very popular aircraft and making a version that is more efficient will draw in more customers. So in conclusion you can sell many different families of aircraft that are popular and increasing efficiency in the aircraft will draw in more customers, although it would be very pricey Airbus would still make a lot of money from both the a330NEO and the a350.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you've oversimplified the situation, and flipped some of the details around. A330 competes primarily against 767 and 787, while the A350 is larger and more realistically compares to the 777. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    Oct 7 '15 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ @egid Okay I will edit it. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan
    Oct 7 '15 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ "More people traveling = bigger aircraft needed" was Airbus' theory behind the A380. Based on sales of the A380, and the 747, looks like that theory is wrong. At least for now. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Oct 8 '15 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Ethan - That's pure speculation. EADS/Airbus began A380 design development in 1988, two decades after Boeing proved that the gamble of a very large aircraft could work (and it was a gamble; Boeing went $2 billion in debt on the 747 project during preproduction). However, the 747 was successful in a highly regulated market prior to the information age, when there was significant demand for VLAs on well-travelled routes. The A380's first flight didn't occur until 2005, 4 years after 9/11 and over 30 years into deregulation, where VLAs only make financial sense for ultra-long-hauls. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Oct 8 '15 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ See my answer to a related question about why the A380 hasn't done well in general: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/17374/… In short, the A380 is the most expensive airliner ever, it entered a fairly saturated market (its saving grace was Emirates' development into a ULH airline), it had significant "teething" issues that scared away orders, and it forced airports to redesign their VLA jetways to accomodate it, while Boeing's 747 was a known quantity and its newer widebodies are close in size to the 757/767. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Oct 8 '15 at 20:52

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