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Ascend Consultancy Weekly Team Perspective: Is the A330neo coming to China? – a suitability analysis  

Recent market developments suggest the potential introduction of the A330neo, the successor to the popular twin aisle type A330ceo, to China.

Aircraft Appraiser of the Year


Scott Zhao

By Yuanfei Zhao (Scott), Senior aviation analyst, Cirium Ascend Consultancy

Recent market developments suggest the potential introduction of the A330neo, the successor to the popular twin aisle type A330ceo, to China. A June release from Bloomberg indicate discussions are ongoing between Airbus and Chinese airlines for the sale of over 100 A330neo aircraft. While Airbus has yet to confirm these discussions, the market awaits further developments.

This raises the interest to examine the potential of this type to be introduced to the China market. From a cost and performance perspective, the A330 family has been designed primarily for short to medium range dense routes while offers competitive pricing relative to its counterparts, such as the A350s. Cirium’s data illustrates this, with the full life market value of a Trent-powered A330-900neo (built in January 2024) and devoid of additional specifications, estimated at approximately USD107 million. In contrast, the equivalent figure for an A350-900 stands at USD158 million..

This pricing strategy positions the A330neo favourably in terms of unit cost, operational expenses, and performance balance within its designated market segment, despite its capability to operate long-haul routes.

Such characteristics clearly differentiates itself from other main twin-aisle types such as the A350, or the 787 and the 777, which primarily target longer-range routes.

The chart below demonstrates the average block range for each of the aforementioned aircraft type operated by Chinese airlines on all flights departing from China since 2015, encompassing both domestic and international routes.

Cirium Schedules data
Source: Cirium Schedules data

The average block range flown by the Chinese A330ceo fleet is 2,250km, whereas for the A350, 787 and 777, the ranges are 2,530km, 2,920km and 3,780km respectively.

This underscores that not only does the A330ceo fleet operate on shorter routes on average compared to other main twin-aisle types in China, but the average block range of other long-haul types operated by Chinese airlines is also not significantly longer than that of the ceo fleet.

Analysis of flights operated by Chinese airlines between 2015 and 2023 reveals that only 14% of these flights exceed 5,000km. Given this context, it appears economically prudent for Chinese airlines to utilise more of the A330 fleet on the majority of their short to medium-range routes.

Cirium Fleets Analyzer
Source: Cirium Fleets Analyzer

From a fleet planning perspective, out of the 212 in-service and stored A330ceo aircraft in China, 33 units (15% of the total fleet)  are currently aged 15 years or older.

These aircraft are likely to face fleet planning decisions before the end of this decade. Additionally, approximately 22% of the fleet is on operating leases with foreign lessors, including Chinese fund-backed lessors registered outside of China.

The destinies of these leased aircraft upon lease expiries are subject to higher uncertainties, with lessors having the flexibility to decide whether to extend leases, relocate assets to more lucrative markets, retire and part out the aircraft for better value extraction, or covert them from passenger aircraft to freighters based on prevailing market dynamics.

In summary, the cost and performance characteristics of the A330 family aircraft align well with the Chinese market, offering a balanced combination of asset unit cost, operational cost (on a per-seat basis) and type/route suitability. If Chinese airlines intend to maintain or even expand their A330 fleet in the long run, it is advisable to commence planning for the new generation neos. However, major considerations include the scarcity of delivery slots and production rate constraints of OEMs, which have resulted in virtually no available delivery slots for aircraft like the A350 and 787 before the end of this decade. While there may be a limited number of A330neo delivery slots still available during this decade due to the relatively small orderbook of this type, they are unlikely to be plentiful.

Consequently, it may be until the next decade before new A330neos can establish a sizeable fleet within Chinese airlines for replacement or growth, even if orders are confirmed and placed promptly.  

Learn more about Cirium Schedules, Cirium Fleets Analyzer.   


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