Airbus is taking aim at Qatar Airways as a potential launch customer for the planned re-engined version of the A320 as it works towards a possible go-ahead by the Farnborough Air Show in July.
Qatar Airways, which operates 25 A320-family aircraft and has orders for 20 more, is still evaluating a possible deal for Bombardier's CSeries twinjet.
Chief executive Akbar Al Baker confirms the airline is studying the proposed upgraded A320 family, which is expected to be offered with CFM International's Leap-X advanced turbofan and a version of Pratt & Whitney's GTF geared turbofan. Qatar Airways has also had a long-running evaluation of the GTF-powered CSeries.
"We continue discussions with Bombardier about a possible CSeries order this year," says Al Baker. "We are also waiting to hear what Airbus is going to do, as Qatar Airways wants to operate leading-edge technology to get the best seat-mile costs and lowest greenhouse emissions."
He adds that the airline may opt for either the CSeries or the re-engined A320 family, or sign for both, and expects to firm up any move this year. If Qatar opts for the CSeries, Al Baker says the airline will avoid being the first customer to introduce the aircraft.
Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy has said he aims to decide on the launch of the new A320 family by Farnborough in July and that, if it goes ahead, the upgrade will be offered as an option on the A319, A320 and A321, delivering a 15% reduction in fuel-burn.
Al Baker points out another advantage of the more efficient engines: to give the largest variant, the 180-seat A321, a useful range boost. This would put its performance on a par with today's A320, he says.
International Aero Engines, in which P&W is a major shareholder, supplies the engines that power Qatar Airways' A320s, but Al Baker says that the airline "is not in love with anybody's engines" and both re-engining powerplant options would be evaluated.
While the prospect of the upgraded A320's becoming a reality looks promising, Al Baker is less convinced about Boeing's proposed 737 re-engining because of its shorter landing-gear and more complicated engine installation. "It will be a harder engineering challenge for Boeing than for Airbus," he says.
At the recent Aircraft Finance and Commercial Aviation Conference in Geneva, both airframers played down the firmness of plans to launch the upgrades.
Airbus vice-president for marketing Andy Shankland and Boeing counterpart Randy Tinseth told delegates that neither company had made a decision, many issues needed to be resolved and the business case needed to be made.