Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (background), sits in the co-pilot’s seat in the cockpit as he is shown around an Airbus A350, during a visit to the 2014 Farnborough Airshow in Hampshire, England on Monday. Image Credit: AP

Farnborough, United Kingdom: European planemaker Airbus on Monday launched the eagerly-awaited upgrade to its long-haul A330 passenger jet — the A330neo — which boasts more fuel-efficient engines.

The news was unveiled on the first day of the Farnborough airshow, a key biennial event in the aviation sector calendar held south-west of London which sees Airbus battle with rival US giant Boeing for plane orders.

The A330neo, seen as a direct competitor to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, will be available in two versions, the A330-800neo and the A330-900neo.

The jet will be powered by Rolls-Royce engines, Airbus said in a statement, adding it will be “the most cost efficient, medium range wide-body aircraft on the market”.

The company added: “Airbus has launched the A330-800neo and A330-900neo, two new members of its widebody family, which will incorporate latest generation Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, aerodynamic enhancements and new cabin features.”

Airbus said the new A330neo would cut fuel consumption by 14 per cent per seat, and that deliveries will start in the fourth quarter of 2017.

“The A330 is a very important margin contributor for our group. It’s also one of the most reliable and efficient commercial aircraft ever,” said Airbus Group chief executive Tom Enders.

“With our decision to re-engine... we will keep the A330 flying high for many more years to come.”

Airbus has sold about 1,300 A330s, of which the vast majority are still in service since the model’s launch in 1993. It is thought that the A330neo could potentially sell more than 1,000 units, according to Airbus.

In the absence of truly new technologies or revolutionary materials — such as light-weight carbon composites used in new fuel-efficient planes — the launch of a brand new passenger jet is not envisaged before five to seven years.

This has left Airbus and Boeing to modernise current models, such as the US giant’s 777X, a new version of its jumbo that seats between 350 and 450 passengers.

Airbus and Boeing are also revamping their medium-haul A320 and 737 planes respectively.

Airbus separately announced that International Airlines Group, parent of British Airways and Spain’s Iberia, had converted 20 A320neo options into a firm order, for delivery in 2018 and 2019.

IAG indicated that it had received a substantial discount on each plane’s list price of about $103 million (€76 million; Dh379.5 million).

“IAG’s selection of the A320neo family for its single aisle fleet is a significant win for Airbus,” said John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer, customers.

Airbus president Fabrice Bregier added: “We see strong market potential for the A330neo, and like its market-leading smaller sister, the A320neo, we are confident this new aircraft will be a success in the medium-haul segment.”