Airbus Industrie is expected to announce shortly its team to head Europe's participation in the joint development of the proposed Air Express AE-100 regional passenger aircraft in partnership with China and Singapore.
The new Airbus team will assume responsibility for the programme from Aero International (Regional) (AI(R)), which was leading negotiations with China.
The move follows a wide-ranging agreement under which AI(R) partner Alenia Aerospazio will become a future partner in Airbus. Alenia is to take a 38% stake in the new Asian Airbus subsidiary being formed to partner Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) and Singapore Technologies (ST).
Airbus plans to market the AE-100 as part of its own product range and is already referring to it internally as the A318. The aircraft is intended to complement and have commonality with Airbus' existing A319/320/321 narrowbody family of aircraft.
An overall joint-venture agreement with AVIC and ST has still to be reached, however. The new European team is due to meet shortly with its Asian counterparts to review the outstanding issues.
One Chinese source says that a major problem remaining is the size of the aircraft. AVIC is proposing development of a family of three jet-powered airliners, seating 90- to 100-, 115- to 120- and 135- to 140-seats. Airbus is concerned that this will overlap with the A319, which seats around 140 passengers in a single-class layout or 124 in two-class configuration.
AVIC argues that aircraft will be lighter and cheaper to operate than the A319 and so better able to rival the Boeing 737 at the lower end of the market.
According to Chinese figures, the baseline aircraft will have a maximum-take-off-weight (MTOW) of 51,780kg, compared to the A319's 64,000kg.
Other areas to be discussed are workshare and the basis on which this will be decided. AVIC has suggested that work should be allocated to the lowest cost bidder, which the Europeans fear will result in a disproportional amount of work being undertaken in China, in addition to final assembly.