Airbus notched a single order this year for its worst-selling plane

  • Airbus secured a single order for its worst-selling A330-800neo widebody airliner this year.

  • The plane is a shrunk version of the A330-900neo and has secured 12 orders since its debut in 2014.

  • Airlines have opted for aircraft with better per-seat costs, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

While Airbus has had no trouble selling its next-generation A330-900neo, the widebody jetliner's little brother is struggling to keep up.

In April, a single order for the A330-800neo was quietly added to Airbus' order book from an undisclosed customer. The company confirmed the purchase to Business Insider but said it was "the privilege of the customer to disclose the order."

This brings the total orders for the A330-800neo to just 12 from five customers, according to Airbus: two from Uganda Airways, four each from Kuwait Airways and Garuda Indonesia, and one each from Air Greenland and the mysterious new buyer.

The A330-800neo is a smaller version of the A330-900neo, which has secured hundreds of global orders since the family's 2014 launch. The A330-800, however, is a rarity in the airline industry despite being in development for just as long.

The pair were launched as a replacement to the company's already successful fleet of A330-200 and A330-300 widebody planes, as well as a solution to Boeing's ever-popular 787 Dreamliner.

Both the A330-800 and A330-900 are exclusively powered by the more fuel-efficient Rolls Royce Trent 7000 engines, which Airbus says reduces fuel emissions by "25% compared to its previous-generation aircraft."

Uganda Airlines Airbus A330-800neo — Dubai Airshow 2021
A Uganda Airlines Airbus A330-800neo.Thomas Pallini/Insider

But this burn is not enough to offset the low capacity and per-seat cost of the A330-800 compared with its larger counterpart.

The problem is that the shrunk A330-800 was designed with range as its selling point — it can fly about 1,000 miles further than the A330-900's nearly 8,300-mile range.

But because the A330-800 has fewer seats, the operating costs end up higher than what airlines are willing to pay.

"All shrinks are a bit heavier on a per-seat basis because they're carrying around the same structures and systems and engines as the bigger planes but with fewer seats," Richard Aboulafia, a managing director at the consultancy firm AeroDynamic, told Business Insider in December 2021.

This is especially important when the A330-900 already offers enough range to meet airlines' needs, making it a better option cost-wise. Plus, the extra capacity could be used for money-making business- and first-class seats.

Air Greenland's Airbus A330-800neo.
Air Greenland's Airbus A330-800neo.Airbus

In 2014, Leeham News and Analysis reported that Airbus argued the A330-800's $260 million price tag made up for the added operating costs.

But the order books — such as United Airlines' deal for up to 200 Boeing 787s in December 2022 — prove there are several other aircraft options that better compete with the middle-of-the-market A330-800neo.

And most airlines are looking at more economical options.

For example, Hawaiian Airlines dropped its order for the A330-800 in 2018 in favor of the Boeing 787-9, which is set to enter its fleet in 2024.

Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram told Business Insider in 2018 that the dwindling demand for the jet was a red flag. He said the airline had to consider that "if something affects the economics [of the business] and we need to make a change," it could be stuck with a jet that nobody else wanted.

Planespotters data shows just seven of Airbus' poor-selling jetliners have been put into service so far, with Garuda Indonesia still yet to receive one. Airbus' test A330-800 is parked, and the last of its type to be delivered was to Air Greenland in December 2022.

The few carriers that fly the A330-800 have sung its praises

Kuwait Airways Airbus A330-800neo
A Kuwait Airways Airbus A330-800neo.Airbus

In an interview with Aviation Source News in December 2022, Air Greenland CEO Jacob Nitter Sørensen said the airline initially chose the A330-800 over the 787 because its performance, efficiency, and economics fit into its Greenland-centered business model.

"We love the [A330-800], and so do passengers, and the efficiency improvements are even better than those promised by Airbus," he said in a recent November interview with Aviation Week.

After its first A330-800 delivery, Uganda Airlines said the aircraft's "operational efficiencies, range, and payload characteristics" made it an ideal aircraft for the airline's network.

Still, its faults have not gone completely unnoticed.

In a March interview with Aviation Week, Kuwait Airways CEO Maen Razouqi said the A330-800 — which at the time was launched nonstop to New York-JFK — would offer "better margins" than the Boeing 777 it was flying on the route.

He further explained that Kuwait Airways did not plan to convert its existing A330-800 orders to the A330-900 so long as Airbus did not delay deliveries, but admitted the larger variant would "offer a better economic footprint."

The Boeing 777 has since re-taken over Kuwait's route to New York-JFK from the A330-800, and later plans to launch the jet to Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC, on December 15 have been scrapped, according to Cirium data.

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