Airbus to offer cash back on A340 as 777 stretches lead

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Airframer's management plays down need for 'costly' redesign of four-engined family

Airbus executives say they will not be “panicked” into a rash decision to reinvigorate the A340-500/600 family and believe they can compensate for the higher operating costs of the four-engined aircraft over the rival Boeing 777 twinjet by offering cashback deals to potential customers rather than investing in a costly redesign.

a340 assembly line

© Airbus
 

Flight International revealed in November that Airbus is secretly studying an “enhanced” derivative of the A340-600, which would feature some weight savings introduced on the A350, as well as Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-technology engines in place of Trent 500s. However, at last week’s annual press briefing in Paris, Airbus chief executive Gustav Humbert played down the likelihood of such a development: “There is no plan imminent to change anything [on the A340]. Once we might make a decision, which is not a given, then we will let you know,” he said.

Referring to poor sales of the A340-500/600 in 2005, when just 12 were sold compared to 154 777-200LR/300ERs, Humbert said: “We are not happy about this situation and therefore we will examine why this happened. But we should not panic – one year does not make a trend and we should not draw premature conclusions.”

While Airbus chief operating officer customers John Leahy concedes that the A340-600’s four-engined configuration means it has a “single-digit fuel burn penalty” over the 777-300ER, he says this can be “traded off” through financial compensation to operators.

“Is it a good investment [for Airbus] to spend a couple of billion dollars to get a better aircraft when you can solve the fuel burn problem with money?” asks Leahy.

The A340-600 and 777 have “comparable ranges and seat counts and Rolls-Royce guarantees that maintenance costs for four engines are the same as the twin,” says Leahy. “I can agree a figure with a customer that reflects the fuel burn delta and run that out over 12 years and pay it to them,” he adds. “But if the 777’s fuel burn advantage was to give it greater range, then we’d have to look at [improving the A340].”

MAX KINGSLEY-JONES  / PARIS

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Read the views of Randy Baseler,  vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes on the issue