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Chinese launch seen for regional version of Airbus A330

An Aeroflot Airbus A330 plane heading to the Cuban capital Havana takes off at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei K
An Aeroflot Airbus A330 plane heading to the Cuban capital Havana takes off at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport June 27, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei K

By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus will launch a short-range "Regional" version of its best-selling A330 wide-bodied jet at an airshow in China on Wednesday, industry sources said.

The announcement may come with a new order for the aircraft, which will be adapted for shorter and more frequent trips than the current long-distance version. Airbus is acting in part to capture burgeoning growth in China's crowded domestic market.

EADS subsidiary Airbus declined to comment.

The European company's sales chief said earlier on Tuesday he would make product and commercial announcements at the Beijing's Aviation Expo, but declined to give details.

Industry sources said the Sept 25-28 event would be a showcase for the shorter-stride version of the A330, which is designed to cope with relatively short but busy routes.

The standard aviation industry workhorses for short- and medium-haul flights are the smaller narrowbody, single-aisle jets like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families.

Until now, both companies have ploughed most of their efforts into making their larger wide-body jets fly further with more passengers, while burning less fuel.

But Airbus has begun deliberately scaling back two long-haul designs, the A330 and the future A350, by limiting engine thrust and weight capacity to optimize them for airlines that want extra seats without paying for unused range.

The Airbus A350-900 Regional, first disclosed by Reuters in June, is already on the market.

After years of adding range to its older A330, it has put the finishing touches to a "Regional" version of that plane. It is a return to the roots of the A330 which began its career ferrying domestic passsengers for French airline Air Inter.

In June, Boeing launched a shorter-range and stretched version of its 787 Dreamliner called the 787-10.

INTRA-ASIA GROWTH

The decisions reflect growth in intra-regional trade in Asia and overcrowded domestic routes in places like China and India.

Asian carriers fly 44 percent of scheduled wide-body flights, and 77 percent of those stay within Asia, says aviation consultancy Ascend.

While Boeing's 787-10 will be physically larger than its sister models, necessitating a new project, Airbus is focusing on artificially capping the amount existing designs can carry.

These maximum weights are used to calculate landing and navigation charges and so make the aircraft cheaper to operate.

The restrictions mean the airlines would get the planes at a cheaper price, but could buy back the spare performance later.

Boeing sources have said this is a disguised form of discounting to compete with the more fuel-efficient 787-10.

By dampening such charges, industry analysts say Airbus will hope to bring the operating cost of an A330 on short trips down towards levels reserved for smaller planes like the A321.

But they warn the shorter trips would lead to an increase in the average number of take-offs and landings, which may require approval from regulators as well as new deals on maintenance.

China has until recently blocked purchases of A330 in a row with the European Union over emissions rules. Airbus said last week it also had 100 Chinese orders for revamped A320neo jets.

(Additional reporting by Brenda Goh, editing by Ingrid Melander)

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