The booming international commercial aviation sector continues to be a bright light leading the future of the aerospace industry.

It is hard to imagine just how radical the change in fortunes for the world’s major commercial aerospace manufacturers has been in the last few years. Just ten years ago the smart money in aerospace pointed to the defense sector as the best source of future profitability. But just as this was reaching a peak, the full impact of a near meltdown in global financial markets brought home to Western governments that defense budgets couldn’t just keep on expanding and a new era of military program cuts began.

The Airbus 330-900neo (new engine option) will incorporate the latest-generation Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines with a 112-in diameter fan for a 10:1 bypass ratio, more seats, and new cabin features, along with new Sharklet wingtip devices.
In contrast, in spite of the grim economic backdrop, global demand for air travel just kept on growing. The steady year-on-year expansion of civil aviation in the Asia Pacific and Latin American regions, as well as in the Arabian Gulf, more than compensated for a slowdown in the ability of established Western airlines to replace elderly jetliner fleets with more fuel-efficient aircraft designs.

The turning point came as this decade opened with a whole new generation of commercial aircraft programs, powered by new, even more fuel-efficient engines. The 15-20% improvements in fuel efficiency, combined with other cost reductions relating to higher reliability, meant that the bottom-line benefit for airlines was too great to ignore.

Another major factor in airline growth has been the rapid expansion of low-cost airlines where new operators could start up business offering passengers cut-price fares and the latest aircraft. It was a winning combination that was to shake up the civil air transport industry. The outcome has been a surge in new orders on a scale that has never been seen before, with sales backlogs and deliveries stretching ahead for seven or eight years.

That 70s Show Up

An Airbus A350XWB for Singapore Airlines is shown under manufacture.
When Airbus was created in the early 1970s it had one product, the wide-body A300B. In 1974 just one A300B was delivered to an airline. After a very slow start, the aircraft was improved and sales started to grow. A new long-range model, the A310, opened up new markets and pioneered twin-engine extended range operations that are now the biggest sector of the long-haul market sector.

By introducing advanced features, such as fly-by-wire flight controls, sidestick controllers, automatic flight envelope protection, two-crew operation, and glass cockpits, Airbus’s fortunes finally took off in the 1980s and the 1000th delivery was achieved in 1993. By 2007, deliveries had risen to 5000. In March 2015, the 9000th Airbus was delivered. In the meantime the sales backlog had risen to 6300 aircraft and the company was increasing production of its best-selling A320 family toward a monthly output of 50 aircraft.

Continuous product improvement has been the key to Airbus’s market success. The A300 and A310 established a modular wide-body product line that featured a common fuselage width and cockpit and grew to include the more technically advanced A330 and A340. This pair offered a near-identical airframe and wing but with the option of either two or four engines. The enormous increase in engine reliability and added fuel economy saw the four-engine A340 dropped in favor of improved versions of the A330.

An Airbus A380 for Asiana Airlines is shown taking off.
Today the A330-200 and -300 are still in great demand and now increased weight versions are available, to be joined in two years by the upgraded A330neo (new engine option) powered by two new Rolls-Royce Trent 7000s, which feature improvements adopted from the Trents developed for the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350XWB. The resulting A330-900 is aimed directly at challenging the Boeing 787-8, and will be in production alongside the all-new, bigger A350XWB, which will also challenge the Boeing 787-9 and 777 family of wide-body jets.

It was originally planned that the A350XWB, with its advanced wing and featuring a higher content of composite materials, would replace the A330, but demand from existing customers with large A330 fleets encouraged Airbus to revamp the design, and with the new Trent engines the A330neo is proving to be very popular as its performance will keep it highly competitive well into the next decade. That does not seem to have had any significant negative impact on A350XWB sales, however, and this latest Airbus entered airline service late in 2014.