Airbus ACJ330
Airbus ACJ330

Airbus ACJ330

This bizliner offers globe-spanning range and a huge cabin—and the price is right.

In June 2017, a Saudi-led coalition severed political and economic ties with tiny but energy-rich Qatar, injecting fresh turmoil into the Middle East. The move cut off the nation’s only land crossing (from Saudi Arabia) and eliminated convenient sea lanes and transiting airspace for aircraft entering or exiting Qatar. 

Thanks to help from Iran and Turkey, Qatar minimized the economic sting of this regional boycott. Its leader, the Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani, was so grateful for the assistance that he gifted Turkish President Recep Erdogan an ultra-plush, three-year-old, VVIP-configured Boeing 787-8 jumbo quadjet that was easily worth more than $500 million. The gesture was significant, but not particularly hard on the Emir, whose private fleet still consists of 12 VVIP converted airliners, six of them jumbo jets. 

Among them are a pair of comparatively economical Airbus A330-200 widebody twinjets, capable of globe-spanning, nonstop range of 8,300 nautical miles. (Think Bangalore to Los Angeles, 19 hours in the air with an hour reserve.) This gets you to virtually any city pair of consequence in the world. 

Airbus announced the A330 in tandem with the quadjet A340 back in 1987 and developed them simultaneously. The aircraft are derivatives of the company’s first airplane, the 1970s-era A300. Deliveries began in the early 1990s, a full decade behind Boeing’s 767 iconic widebody twinjet. The two Airbus aircraft feature identical advanced fly-by-wire flight controls, cockpit sidesticks, glass-panel instrument displays, fuselage, and wings; in fact, there is only a 3 percent structural difference between the two, according to David Velupillai, marketing director for Airbus Corporate Jets. 

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As airlines put pennies under a microscope, the A330, with its fractionally lower operating costs (two engines are cheaper to fly than four), outsold the A340 by a nearly four-to- one ratio. The A330 remains in production while Airbus delivered the last A340 in 2011. Boeing, meanwhile, still makes the 767, albeit in very limited quantities. But although the 767 has been in production for a decade longer, the A330 has outsold it; there are 300 more A330s than 767s in service, and Airbus has no plans to shut down A330 production anytime soon.

In fact, the manufacturer recently announced an improved version of the aircraft, the A330neo (“neo” stands for “new engine option”). Thanks to more fuel-efficient engines and wingtip “sharklets,” an ACJ330neo has a range of more than 10,400 nautical miles. That’s about 3,100 nautical miles more than a Boeing 767 VIP can fly nonstop, according to the research firm Conklin & de Decker. Sticker price sans custom interior is around $240 million. 

As of last November, Airbus had delivered 1,427 A330s. Velupillai claims the A330/340 (including the A330neo) is the most successful widebody commercial jet program of all time based on orders. The airplane is operated by an impressive 106 airlines worldwide. 

The A330 is available with three engine choices from Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney, and GE. The aircraft was manufactured in several variants but the one most commonly used for VVIP carriage—initially branded the A330-200 Prestige and later badged the ACJ330 (ACJ for Airbus Corporate Jets)—is the A330-200. The -200 is the long-haul variant and the second most popular with more than 660 delivered. In airline configuration it accommodates 250 to 400 passengers, and the two dozen or so in private hands have generally been configured to seat 25 to 60. The market for these airplanes is thin, but when they do become available you can generally pick up a nice 10- to 15-year-old one with a full-up executive interior at prices starting at $24 million, less than what you’d pay for a new, 10-seat, 3,000-nautical-mile-range super-midsize business jet.

But, given its size, the A330 has a few limitations. You can’t take it just anywhere. You need long, thick runways and lots of ramp space. Remember, this is basically a flying gas tank. Fully loaded, it tips the scales at better than 533,000 pounds and needs 9,110 feet of runway to take off (sea level, standard temperature day). A full bag of gas is 36,744 gallons (costing roughly $180,000 per fill-up at current prices). The wingspan is 198 feet and the nose-to-tail length is 193 feet. The good news is that you have an awful lot of interior space to ramble around in during those 19-hour flights. The baggage hold alone is 4,673 cubic feet. The cabin measures 17 feet, 3 inches wide and 147 feet, 8 inches long. 

Airbus ACJ330 Interior
Airbus ACJ330 Interior

Designers can be tempted to do a lot with that kind of real estate, and that can lead to problems without the proper guidance, cautions Airbus’s Velupillai. “The risk when you do cabin outfitting is that you compromise the performance of the aircraft by putting too much weight into it,” he says. “You can adversely impact the center of gravity to the extent that you can’t fly the missions intended or the owner has to sit in a particular place on takeoff and landing.”

While Airbus no longer does cabin completions directly, it does offer design and engineering consultation services (for a fee, naturally) to preclude such difficulties and ensure guaranteed aircraft performance, proper documentation, and maintenance, and it can work with the customer’s designer and designated completion center. The company also has devised several popular interior design schemes for the ACJ330. 

One popular design is called the multi-role tanker transport, or MRTT. This is often employed by governments that want to be able to use their A330 aircraft in a variety of roles, including VIP transport, cargo and troop transport, and air-to-air refueling. Sixty of these aircraft have been ordered. They feature a VIP compartment in the forward section.

Airbus ACJ330 Interior
Airbus ACJ330 Interior

In 2012, Airbus unveiled the Gala concept for the ACJ330. It provides for a standardized VVIP cabin in the forward portion of the aircraft that features a master bedroom, master office, and conference area. This speeds completions and reduces costs. Airbus followed this up with a concept called Summit, which features the forward elements of Gala followed by airline-style first-class seating and economy seating in the aft cabin. 

With the ACJ330neo, Airbus unveiled yet another design concept, called Harmony, which replaces more traditional cabin lines with curved surfaces in a layout that features round table seating areas, a forward master suite and office with en suite bathroom and shower, four VIP guest suites, and aft seating for support staff. Velupillai notes that any of these three concepts can be retrofitted onto a used A330, as can a variety of avionics upgrades, including the onboard airport navigation system and the runway overrun prevention system.

Unfortunately, the new, more fuel-efficient engines of the ACJ330neo and the wingtip sharklets are not available as upgrades—those would require structural changes to the aircraft. But given the tens-of-millions price difference between a used ACJ330 and a new ACJ330neo, burning $10,000 more fuel per trip seems rather inconsequential. 

Airbus ACJ330 Interior layout
Airbus ACJ330 Interior layout

2005 Airbus ACJ330-200* at a Glance 

Price (estimated)                              $24-$27 million 

Crew                                                    8–12 

Passengers (VVIP)                              25–60 

Cruising speed                                    470 kt 

Range                                                   8,300 nm 

Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW)  535,000 lb 

Takeoff distance at MTOW               9,110 feet 

Fuel capacity                                      36,744 gal

Cabin Length                                     147 ft, 8 in 

 Cabin Width                                      17 ft, 3 in

*also known as the A330-200 Prestige

Source: Airbus Corporate Jets