The Airbus A330 is not the flashiest plane in the sky. These days it is mostly outshone by its glossier sibling, the Airbus A350. But since first entering service in the mid-1990s, the A330 has proved a continuing hit for airlines and travelers. The A330 is reliable, spacious, comfortable, and can move large numbers of people a long way in a single leap. There’s a lot to like about the plane and nowhere has the A330 proved more popular than in the Asia-Pacific region.
Asia-Pacific airlines some of the biggest A330 operators
The biggest operator of the A330 aircraft type in the world is Turkish Airlines. But of the ten biggest operators of the A330 type, seven of them are Asia-Pacific-based airlines. They include China Southern Airlines, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern Airlines, Air China, Korean Air, and Hainan Airlines. Of the top 20 biggest A330 operators, 12 of them are Asia-based.
As of November 30, 2020, Airbus has delivered 1506 A330s to customers worldwide. Of that total, 604 (or 42%) went to airlines based in the Asia-Pacific region. In contrast, 359 (or 25%) went to European-based airlines and just 100 (or 6.6% of the worldwide total) fly for North American airlines.
Why has the A330 proved such a hit in the Asia-Pacific region? To begin with, there are no major aircraft manufacturers based in the Asia-Pacific region. Whereas a North American airline might naturally lean towards aircraft from Boeing because it’s a homegrown aircraft manufacturer, there is less of that bias (implicit or otherwise) in markets like Asia-Pacific.
Problems at Boeing benefited the A330
The popularity of the A330 in the Asia-Pacific was also aided by the run of problems Boeing had with the development and production of their 787 Dreamliner. While getting an aircraft from drawing board to delivery is never trouble-free, Boeing has had far more troubles in the last couple of decades than Airbus has when it comes to making mid-sized planes. For many airlines in the Asia-Pacific region, the reliable A330 seemed like a less problematic default option.
The fast-growing Asia-Pacific aviation market is also underpinning demand for mid-sized planes with a decent range that can switch between dense short-haul intra-Asia routes and the inter-continental runs to Europe and the Middle East. Around 60% of the world’s population lives in the Asia-Pacific region – four billion-plus people all within half a day’s flying time of each other. In addition, many of the formerly undeveloped and relatively poor countries in the region are now developing fast and incomes are rising. It’s a potent mix of factors to underpin an aviation market.
Some cracks appear in the Asia-Pacific love affair with the A330
However, it has not been all beer and skittles when it comes to the A330 and the Asia-Pacific region lately. The 2020 travel has left a number of Asian airlines, particularly low-cost-airlines, in deep financial strife. Many of these airlines have big A330 orders and the future of many of those orders is now up in the air. Embattled AirAsia X has 78 A330-900s on order with Airbus or about 25% of their total A330neo orders. The collapse of that order would be a serious blow to Airbus.
With so many people now on the move in the Asia-Pacific region, the A330 has come into its own. For example, the plane works just as well for Garuda Indonesia on a short hop between domestic Denpasar and Jakarta as it does on their flights to Europe. The flexibility and reliability of the A330 underpin its appeal to so many airlines from the Asia-Pacific region.