October 30, 2018 / 9:39 AM / a year ago

Airbus says close to delivering first A330-900 to TAP Portugal

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Airbus is pictured at the entrance of the company's delivery center in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA) plans to deliver its delayed A330-900 aircraft to launch customer TAP Portugal “imminently”, an executive with the European planemaker said on Tuesday.

The 290-seat aircraft is part of the A330neo series - an upgrade of the A330 wide-body jet with new engines designed to blunt sales of the lightweight Boeing 787 (BA.N).

A smaller 250-seat sister plane, the A330-800, is close to staging its first flight, Mark Pearman-Wright, head of leasing and investor marketing at Airbus, added while speaking at the Airline Economics conference in Hong Kong.

Rolls-Royce (RR.L) said last week that it faced production delays with engines for the A330neo.

Airbus and Boeing have been locked in a fierce battle for sales of relatively small wide-body jets like the A330neo, which has been struggling to win orders against the 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus earlier this month said it had won an order from Kuwait Airways for eight A330-800s, which had been left without customers after Hawaiian Airlines defected to the Boeing 787. Some conference delegates said this may have been at the expense of at least part of its pending order for newer A350 aircraft.

“Airbus may be ready to give up a few A350s to keep the A330 going,” a leasing executive said, asking not to be named.

Airbus has said the replacement cycle for earlier models of A330 aircraft, as they retire, will lift demand for the A330neo. Airbus is relying on the jet to continue a profitable but declining wide-body franchise and to keep commercial depth to an airframe that it needs to keep building for military customers.

Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark John

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