What It’s Like to Fly on the World’s First Airbus A330neo

All images in this post are taken by Alex Macheras — © 

Today in Toulouse, the world’s first commercial A330-900neo will be signed over to TAP Air Portugal. Below is an in-depth look at what you can expect from the aircraft, as I took part in the test flight period, earlier this year… 

The A330neo

The A330neo is now preparing to enter into commercial service, with launch customer operator TAP Air Portugal. Lisbon-based TAP Air Portugal will be the first to fly an A330neo family aircraft, essentially a new generation A330, comprising two versions: the A330-800 and A330-900, both sharing 99% commonality.

Airlines haven’t rushed to order the A330neo. As of early September 2018, the current order book for the A330neo stands at 224 aircraft on order. Meanwhile, the larger, and already-in service A350 has an order book with 890 aircraft on order, with almost 200 already delivered.

What’s New?

A330neo has new Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines (hence the ‘NEO’ new engine option), but this jet isn’t just a re-engined A330 model. It also features some structural changes, such as new wings, to better improve efficiency.

During the ‘route proving’ stage of the flight test schedule, Airbus have an opportunity to fly the aircraft around the world in order to rack up miles and test different airports, while showing off the world’s latest wide-body jet.

Recently, onboard a route proving flight from Airbus HQ in Toulouse, France, to Lisbon, Portugal – I was among the first in the world to fly on an A330neo (a jet that is still yet to enter the world of commercial flying).

For the record, it’s worth highlighting that the cabin interior you’ll see will be altered prior to the aircraft being delivered to TAP Air Portugal. While the cabin interior looks finished, it’s not.

Flying the A330neo — a private test flight from Toulouse, France to Lisbon, Portugal 

Boarding a test flight is a much more relaxed experience than boarding a commercial flight.

After a light lunch near to the flightline, we decided to make our way to the aircraft — the first A330neo set to be delivered to TAP Air Portugal, wearing flight test registration ‘F-WWKM’

Business Class is located in the forward cabin, between Doors 1-2.
First impression? The sandy tones create a warm, and inviting atmosphere.

The cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Business Class seats are the Recaro CL6710 lie-flat model, each with direct aisle access, and large in-flight entertainment screens. The seat upholstery is a mixture of various shades of beige and cream, creating a bright and warm cabin environment.

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As our aircraft was still a test aircraft, the safety card is Airbus’ own — something quite rare.

Moving forward to Galley 2, you can see the illuminated overhead ceiling pattern — the only example that this cabin is (allegedly) an ‘Airspace by Airbus’ cabin, a cabin concept created for the A330neo.

Side note: Ultimately, Airbus had big hopes with what they think an A330neo cabin could look like, and they named it ‘Airspace’. ‘Airspace’ also includes state-of-the-art Smart Lavatories, with touchless features, etc. However, I’ve long been sceptical of which airlines would actually install full ‘Airspace’ cabin, and TAP Air Portugal’s A330neo has proven that ‘Airspace’ really isn’t anything other than a marketing ploy during an aircraft sales campaign. The airline launch customer has ignored, and declined all aspects of ‘Airspace’ — albeit for this overhead pattern design, with standard Airbus mood-lighting. You’ll be able to read more on my thoughts on ‘Airspace’ in a separate post, soon.

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In Economy Class, seats are arranged in a  2-4-2 layout, something typical of an A330. TAP Air Portugal has chosen Recaro CL3710 seats — which are quite comfortable, but not very well padded. Each seat has personal in-flight entertainment. 

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Economy Class Seats at the front of the cabin (with a red rest) have a seat pitch of 34 inches and will be sold to passengers at an extra cost compared with the seats behind, (green headrest) seats, which have 31 inches of pitch.

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The overhead locker design is old, and used on classic A330s, which is a shame — given this is a brand new aircraft.

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During the test flight from Airbus, Toulouse, to Lisbon — flight test engineers sat at a central positioned monitoring station, at the front of Economy. Here, they monitored all parameters of the flight, including the aircraft’s performance.

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The New Engine

From the moment we started climbing to our cruising altitude, I was in awe at the reduced-noise level of Rolls-Royce’s Trent 7000’s.

This is an exclusive engine for the Airbus A330neo family, assembled & tested in Derby, UK, and Seletar, Singapore, before being shipped to the Airbus facility in Toulouse, France, to be fitted to the A330neo.

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These engines are truly state-of-the-art, and even include a 24/7 engine health monitoring system that relays key performance information back to Rolls-Royce, even while the aircraft is still airborne.

For passengers, the most noticeable novelty of the new engines is the cabin quietness. There is no longer a ‘whooshing’ sound, and I was able to communicate with colleagues at what I’d consider a normal ‘inside’ speaking voice volume, very similar to what passengers already experience on quiet jets including the Airbus A350 XWB, and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

However, reduced engine noise does come with some slight disadvantages. On this A330neo flight, I noticed I could clearly hear a conversation between two passengers…who were sat six rows behind me! Where their conversation would ordinarily be drowned out by engine noise on an older jet…it could be heard quite clearly on this flight.

During the flight, I caught up with Antonoaldo Neves, the CEO of TAP Air Portugal.

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He said that for him, the reduced noise was one of his favourite aspects of this jet. “You don’t need noise cancelling headphones anymore!” he joked.

Performance

The A330neo felt smooth, light (given our light load of passengers, and no cargo), and quiet. The flight test engineers told me “Luckily, nearly everything has gone to plan with our expectations for this new aircraft. There was more to do because it’s not simply a re-engined jet…but the performance is certainly as expected, and we’re happy…as are Rolls Royce”

One thing I did notice, is that the deployment of the landing gear is louder, and creates a ‘thud’ when the landing gear bay doors close — just like the A350-1000. If you’ve ever flown an A350-1000, you may recall such a ‘thud’ when those gear doors have finally closed, and it does ‘jolt’ the airframe hard enough for passengers to notice in the cabin.

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The new sharklet looks fantastic, and Airbus has improved the lift-to-drag ratio by using A350 XWB wing philosophy.

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Final Thought

The A330neo is the world’s newest widebody aircraft preparing to enter commercial service — and so far, so good. For passengers, the A350 XWB experience will now be felt onboard an A330neo too. The aircraft will enter service in the coming months with TAP Portugal and will fly to destinations in both North and South America.

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TAP Air Portugal already have A330s at the heart of their long-haul operations, and the airline said it’s looking forward to ‘even better economics, and even better efficiency’ with a newer, re-engined, and re-designed model.

Are you looking forward to flying the A330neo? 

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