Airbus is continuing its route-proving program toward A330neo certification, completing a 2-hr. leg from Chicago O’Hare to Atlanta Hartsfield July 7.

This part of the testing is using an A330-900neo that will be delivered to TAP Air Portugal, which has ordered 21 of the type.

The joint route proving flights, also known as function and reliability tests, are part of the work required by civil aviation authorities and must include short, and long flights as well as flights in different environmental conditions.

For the -900neo, these have included flights in Kazakhstan for cold weather, Mexico for hot weather, Bolivia for high altitude, and Ireland for strong wind conditions. Airbus has two more -900s participating in the certification program and anticipates completion this summer.

Briefing journalists July 6 ahead of the Chicago-Atlanta leg, Airbus A330 marketing manager- customer affairs Silvia Ustupska said the manufacturer wanted to leverage the A330ceos’ large operator base, with some 1,200 aircraft flying today, as it markets and sells the re-engined neo version.

“We would also like to replace [Boeing] 767s and 777-200ERs,” she said.

Ustupska noted that while the neo will typically be in a configuration seating between 250 and 300 passengers, LCCs are moving into long-haul markets and could be interested in high-density cabins. Indonesian LCC Lion Air, for example, operates A330ceos that seat 440.

TAP is configuring its -900neos with 298 seats in a three-class cabin comprising 34 business-class seats 96 economy Xtra seats with a 34-in. seat pitch and 68 regular economy with a 31-in. pitch. The lie-flat business seats and slim-line economy seats are supplied by Recaro, while the IFE systems are Pansonic’s EX3. In business, the IFE screen has been certified so that it can be unlocked and extended during takeoff and landing. The center twin seats in the 1-2-1 business cabin alternate between pairs that allow traveling companions to be closer together and pairs that offer more individual privacy.

TAP intends to first operate the -900neo on premium routes such as Lisbon-Sao Paulo and Lisbon-New York, but with seven scheduled for delivery by the end of 2018, expects to see the aircraft widely deployed soon to its Americas’ destinations.

The Star Alliance carrier serves three US gateways—New York JFK and Newark, Boston and Miami, as well as Toronto.  The airline said it has doubled its US-Portugal traffic in the last three years and expects to do the same again in the next three. In addition to the 21 A330neos—seven of which are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2018—it has on order 19 A320neos, 17 A321neos and 14 A321LRs.

While Airbus has secured 214 firm orders for the -900neo, with customers including AirAsia X, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and several lessors, it does not yet have any firm orders for the smaller capacity, longer-range -800 variant, which is expected to start its flight test program this year. Hawaiian Airlines canceled an order for six -800s.

The -800 has a more than 90% commonality with the -900 and both aircraft are powered by the new Rolls-Royce Trent 7000. Combined with a new, larger wing and Sharklets, the A330neos are expected to deliver a 25% reduction in fuel burn per seat relative to current-generation A330s.

The -800, however, has a range of 7,500 nautical miles versus the -900’s 6,550 and a typical seat capacity of 257 versus the -900’s 287.  

Ustupska told ATW that this smaller capacity/longer range capability makes the -800neo an ideal replacement for the A330-200, for which about 700 have sold, and also for airlines that are looking to enter the widebody market for the first time. Those “new” widebody customers could create long-haul city pairs while minimizing risk because of the -800’s smaller size and low trip cost, she said. The -800neo will be the longest-range aircraft in its size.

“Twenty-six of the A330-200 operators airlines selected it as their first widebody,” Ustupska said.

Karen Walker, karen.walker@informa.com