Doubts persist on costs of large- aircraft plans

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AIRBUS INDUSTRIE's studies of the A3XX new large aircraft (NLA) are showing encouraging technical results, but have highlighted the difficulty of financing development.

A key senior manager says that it is clear that neither Boeing nor a European team can undertake the development programme under conventional financial arrangements.

The official indicates that, if Airbus goes ahead with the A3XX, it will need alternative sources of research-and-development funding - essentially as indirect subsidies.

He suggests that Boeing will be in the same position if it elects to build an NLA. "As a traditional business case, I don't think the programme makes sense," he says.

In July, the Airbus partners and Boeing are scheduled to finish the current phase of their joint feasibility study of the Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT). Airbus Industrie, which has only observer status in the talks, declines to discuss the next step in detail, but A3XX project engineer Hans Fischer says that a "...six-month neutral phase for both sides to scratch their heads" is probable. VLCT group members Boeing and British Aerospace say, however, that there is no such plan.

Latest Airbus thinking envisages an A3XX family consisting of an initial A3XX-100 with 530-570 seats and a range of 13,700km (7,400nm), with possible entry into service in 2003.

Subsequent members might be a -100R model of the same size, with a range of 15,500km and a larger, 630- to 670-seat, -200 with the same range as the basic aircraft.

Baseline maximum take-off weights are 476t for the -100 and 519t for the -200 with nominal required engine thrusts of 290kN (66,000lb) and 315kN, respectively.

Airbus projects that direct operating cost over a 7,400km sector of between 13% and 22% will be below those of the Boeing 747-400.