The decision in favor of the Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engine powering the Airbus A330neo has only come after a fierce competition between General Electric (GE) and Rolls-Royce. “Both were clear: they needed to be single source,” Airbus Executive Vice President Programs Tom Williams said at the Farnborough Air Show. Airbus would have liked to go for two engine types from a commercial perspective, but now sees the advantages of the single source deal, he pointed out.

Recent comments made by General Electric seemed to indicate little enthusiasm for the A330neo. “We spend a lot of money doing a new engine and the market has to be big enough to offset that cost,” GE Aviation President David Joyce said in March. “You can’t pass that price on to the customer, so a whole new engine is a tough call to be honest on an A380 and an A330neo,” he added.

Airbus on Monday launched the A330neo for entry into service in late 2017 and collected commitments for 105 aircraft from four launch customers by Tuesday. The A330neo family will be made up of the -800 and -900 versions, with the larger -900 coming first. The development time of no more than 3.5 years is seen as ambitious by many in the industry.

“There is no strategic dimension to this (engine decision),” Williams argues. But recently a closer alignment of Rolls-Royce and Airbus as well as Boeing and GE has emerged in the widebody segment: GE is the exclusive engine supplier for the Boeing 777X while Rolls-Royce has that status on the Airbus A350 program with the Trent XWB. According to Williams, Airbus opted for the Rolls proposal on the A330neo purely on commercial terms.

While it may make things more difficult commercially, Williams pointed at advantages on the industrial side. “The engine affects pylon design and at the same time we are squeezing fuel (efficiency) to the absolute limit,” he said. Bad integration could cost 1.25% in fuel efficiency. At the same time, Airbus needs to be aware of limits in engineering resources and timing. “We would have been pressured into two development teams,” Williams said. On the other hand, he is confident that Airbus can apply a lot of lessons learnt on the A320neo program.

Williams does not believe that the current rate of ten aircraft per month on the A330 line will be sustainable much past 2020. In his opinion, Airbus should aim at 7-8 aircraft per month. It is also still unclear at what rate the manufacturer will go through the transition from the current A330 version to the neo. “I don’t have the answer yet, but the question really centers around the 2017/18 crossover period.” Airbus plans to stop producing the current A330 in 2019.