UK low-cost carrier EasyJet's push to force the pace of next-generation narrowbody development is being widely viewed as an attempt to set aviation on a strictly sustainable course.
EasyJet has revealed its own "eco-friendly" aircraft design, which it says uses existing technologies that could halve carbon dioxide emissions and produce 75% less NOx by 2015.
EasyJet chief executive Andy Harrison says sheer pressure of airline demand could push Airbus and Boeing into action. "What we are saying to them is that this is what we, the customer, want you to build. Get on with it and develop it by 2015," he says, adding: "We are spending £4 billion [$8 billion] on aircraft. They are listening to us."
Airbus has always maintained that the timing to create a new single-aisle aircraft to succeed the A320 family will be dictated by market demand and the emergence of new engine technology.
"To talk about the A320 replacement now is simply too early," says Airbus in response to the EasyJet move. "The time has, however, come to discuss issues such as how can you speed up the early retirement of aircraft. The impact of that is potentially much greater than the premature launch of a new aircraft programme that, given the appropriate time to study, will really deliver benefits."
Last week also saw Airbus chief Louis Gallois propose a high-level global aerospace initiative to step up efforts to cut aviation emissions matched with a pledge to increase the airframer's €400 million ($532 million) research and technology budget by 25% from 2008 in a bid to help find ways to reduce emissions.
"We need to recognise that this is an issue that cannot be tackled by any one company or country," says Gallois, "As a first step, I propose a meeting with the chief executives of the engines and airframe manufacturers, including Boeing, to ensure this crucial issue is given the highest level of attention."
An industry commentator says: "EasyJet is effectively hardening the performance requirement of the next-generation narrowbody through setting a minimum requirement. A major airline like EasyJet is actually saying, the future of our business will be all about delivering sustainable aviation."