AIRBUS INDUSTRIE HAS secured an initial order from Air Canada for two of its planned ultra-long-range A340-8000s and stepped up efforts to secure additional launch orders from the Asia-Pacific market.

Air Canada's purchase by itself is not sufficient to launch the 232-seat -8000 derivative formally. According to airline sources, Airbus is looking for "around 12 orders" to launch the 14,800km (8,000nm)-range aircraft.

The two -8000s ordered are understood to be included as part of Air Canada's original order for six A340s, plus three options, announced in February 1994. The first two Canadian aircraft were delivered recently.

Airbus hopes to have the A340-8000 in service by the first half of 1997, to give the aircraft a two-year lead over its proposed Boeing 747-100X "shrink" competitor (Flight International, 21-27 June, P26). Boeing wants to launch the -100X programme in the next 14 months, and deliver the first 250-seat aircraft in May 1999.

Airbus and Boeing consider Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines (SIA) to be the strongest potential launch customers in the Asia-Pacific region for a thin-capacity, ultra-long-haul aircraft. Formal offers, are expected to be made, to the two carriers shortly.

Cathay Pacific, like Air Canada, has a requirement for an aircraft to operate non-stop all year round between Hong Kong and Toronto. In addition, it wants to launch new services from Hong Kong to New York and Chicago.

The airline has already ordered 11 777-200/300s and six A340-300Hs, and has options on a further 11 and eight aircraft respectively through to the year 2000. A decision is likely in the next six to 12 months, with deliveries scheduled for after the opening of Hong Kong's new Chek Lap Kok airport in April 1998, says a senior airline source.

SIA needs a similar ultra-long-range aircraft, to fly non-stop from Singapore to the West Coast of the USA. It has also ordered 17 higher-gross-weight A340-300Es and has options on 20 more, along with 11 Boeing 747 options convertible to the 777.

Source: Flight International