Airbus is considering beefing up its A330 passenger jet in a bid to expand a recent winning sales streak for the junior member of its wide-body jet family, the plane maker said on Monday.
While the twin-engined aircraft, in service since the 1990s, is enjoying a second honeymoon with airlines due, in part, to delays in Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, analysts say it faces a threat from a possible stretched version of the 787.
An Airbus spokeswoman said a decision on how to enhance the A330 would be taken in the second half of the year.
The EADS unit is considering increasing the maximum amount of weight the A330 can carry by up to 5 tonnes and adding drag-reducing wingtip devices called "sharklets" -- upward-slanting wingtips designed to help the aircraft fly further on the same amount of fuel.
They are already planned for the smaller narrow-body A320.
A330 sales have flourished in the past two years as Boeing encountered delays in bringing out its carbon-composite 787, which recently entered service.
It has shorter range than either the 787 or Airbus's planned carbon-composite alternative, the future A350, but has sold well to airlines operating intermediate long-haul routes.
With the changes under consideration, the A330 would be able to lift up to 240 tonnes at take-off, Airbus said -- an increase of 5 tonnes for the most popular variant, the A330-300, and 2 tonnes for the A330-200.
Increasing the maximum take-off weight allows airlines to add more fuel to carry the same number of people and their baggage further, or else carry a larger payload.
France's La Tribune newspaper said the moves to increase the maximum tolerated weight at take-off would add 7 percent to the range of the A330, potentially giving it a range over 7,000 nautical miles.
With a three-class layout, the A330-300 carries 295 people up to 5,650 nautical miles or 10,500 km, while the A330-200 -- with a shorter fuselage and more range -- takes 253 people up to 12,500 km.
Boeing has said it was considering a stretched version of its 787 called the 787-10 that would carry about 300 people approximately 6,800 nautical miles.
The move has been described by an industry official familiar with Boeing pre-marketing as a potential "A330 killer".
The skirmish addresses a lucrative niche of the industry alongside high-profile battles between the A350 and Boeing's 787 and the older but larger 777, which had record sales last year.
Airbus has said the carbon A350 will eventually outshine the 777 because it will be lighter and cheaper to run, while Boeing was expected to make similar claims about the 787-10 against the A330, which stems from roughly the same era as the 777.