The cancellation of a 26 May meeting to discuss the commercial launch of the 550-seat Airbus A3XX was forced on the consortium by the need to settle difficult final assembly issues and "fine tune" other aspects of the programme, says the company.

Airbus plays down the effect of the delay, saying it still intends to launch the A3XX by the end of the year after supervisory board authorisation to offer (ATO) the A3XX formally. This "could come at any time", says a source within the consortium. "There is no threat to the 2005 in-service date."


Airbus remains upbeat about the prospects for launch orders for up to 50 aircraft once it passes the ATO stage. So far, it has secured two "letters of interest" from Emirates and Singapore Airlines and is on the verge of receiving four more from unnamed customers. Front runners include Air France, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic, as well as cargo carriers Atlas Air and FedEx.

The Qantas board is expected to discuss a pledge for 10-A3XXs next month, along with the selection between the Boeing 777-200LR/300ER or Airbus A340-500/600 - rumours suggest a recommendation will go to the board to select Boeing. Air France's board is due to meet on 30 June to consider an 11-aircraft A3XX package.

FedEx is considering 10 aircraft, plus five options, and Atlas a smaller number. Cathay is considering a pledge for five A3XXs, but wants to see what Boeing is planning to offer first in terms of a stretched 747X.

Philippe Camus, president of Aerospatiale Matra, says the Airbus partners are spending Fr250 million ($42 million) each month on A3XX development. "They're working in a world in which it is already launched."

After the cancellation of the supervisory board meeting Jean-Luc Lagardère, president of the Lagardère group which controls Aerospatiale Matra, insisted the A3XX "will happen", but says the partners would give the go-ahead "only when the moment is right".

Pre-ATO negotiations centre on the A3XX final assembly location and resulting redistribution of workshare on other Airbus programmes between Airbus' major partners Aerospatiale Matra and DaimlerChrysler Aerospace. Toulouse is virtually certain to have final assembly, but Germany is holding out for a transfer of the A320 line to Hamburg, along with final assembly of at least some major A3XX subassemblies.

On the technical front, the A3XX-100 is being offered with increased range in response to airline demand for more transpacific capability. Maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of the -100 has grown from 540t to 548t, increasing fully loaded range from 14,150km (7,650nm) to 14,430km, while the high gross weight version will weight in at 560t, yielding a maximum range of 15,100km.

Meanwhile, Airbus is offering "light" and "heavy" versions of the proposed A330-100 to meet requirements to replace the short-medium range A310-300 and A300-600 and a new long-range charter requirement. The 160-210-seat A330-100 will be eight fuselage frames shorter than the -200, with the regional version having an MTOW of 195t for a range of 7,400-8,325km, and the heavyweight 221t-227t version providing a range of 12,950km.

Source: Flight International