Airbus offers a sneak peek at its newest A330-900neo wide-body long-haul airliner

Posted July 8, 2018 3:06 p.m. EDT

— Air travelers, get ready for a new wide-body airliner that could be pulling up to your airport gate soon.

The Airbus A330-900neo has wrapped up "route proving flights" in the US, showing off its new engines, a wing re-design and a re-imagined cabin.

On Friday the jet flew from Chicago to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, home of Delta Air Lines -- the world's second largest passenger carrier. Delta has 25 of these new planes on order, expected to enter their fleet next year.

The A330-900neo is a new variant of the Airbus A330 family of long-haul twin-engine jets --- with seating for about 287 in a typical three-class configuration, about 10 more seats than earlier models.

Boarding this plane, the first thing I noticed was the attractive LED mood lighting -- offering millions of options for interior colors. New seats and bigger overhead luggage bins also caught my attention. Airbus says this new plane has a quieter cabin than earlier A330s.

The cabin design -- dubbed Airspace -- plays with straight lines, said Airbus Interiors Marketing Director Roser Roca-Toha.

"The straight lines maximize the feeling of space and volume in the cabin," said Roca-Toha. "Just like in your kitchen at home, if everything is nice and tidy and you can see the lines, it looks bigger and nicer and you feel the space and the volume. The same happens here in the aircraft. We wanted to have these uninterrupted lines when passengers board so they can feel the space and the well being."

The seats -- by Recaro -- offer several appealing functionality features.

Tiny step-up holes on the base of each seat let passengers step up to reach into the overhead bins. Also, the distance that hide-away tray-tables pull out from the seat-backs is generous and adjustable. Headrests are also adjustable six different ways -- to accommodate taller passengers.

Saving fuel

First Class seats in the new Airbus are 78-inch lie-flats that measure 20 inches wide and are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Economy class is set up with a 2-4-2 layout with 18-inch seat width.

Lavatories have been redesigned to include music, calming lighting, air freshening scents and anti-bacterial surfaces.

This Airbus tour wasn't only about showing off. There was research going on here as well.

Sitting at his special monitoring station in the center of the cabin was an Airbus flight test engineer, who's been gathering data on engine efficiency as well as cabin ventilation and air flow. The tests are all aimed at ultimately winning certification for the A330neo from aviation regulators.

The "neo" in A330-900neo stands for "new engine option." The plane's new Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines are designed to burn less fuel.

"We've also got a brand new wing with a four meter (13 feet) longer span than the current aircraft. The wing is fully optimized from the root to the tip," said Peter Finn, who manages product marketing for the A330 family.

Speaking of the wingtips, unique curved sharklets -- aka winglets -- which help save fuel on Airbus's innovative A350 jet, have been added to this A330neo.

Sharklets help the wings slice through the air more efficiently by cutting wind resistance that builds up on the ends of jetliner wings.

Orders on the way

Altogether, including the new engines, additional seats and new wing design -- Finn said this plane saves 14% on fuel per seat, compared with the current A330 model, the A330-300.

This touring A330-900neo is owned by Portugese airline TAP Air Portugal -- which has ordered 14 of these jets and plans to put them into service beginning this year.

According to Airbus website, the airline has 224 orders for the A330-900neo, including Delta's -- which are expected to replace its retired Boeing 747s and aging Boeing 767s for medium haul trans-Atlantic routes and some routes connecting the US West Coast and Asia.

But the A330neo program has suffered a few dings. In March Hawaiian Airlines dropped an order for six A330-800neos, choosing to buy Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners instead. Also, American Airlines -- the world's largest passenger carrier -- shifted its future fleet strategy away from A330neos and toward Boeing Dreamliners.

However, US-based United Airlines was reportedly still considering the A330neo for its long-haul fleet, according to Flightglobal.

Overall, European airports should start seeing this new jet before the end of this year and Americans soon after.