Air China has signed a tentative agreement with Airbus Industrie and Pratt & Whitney to order eight PW6000-powered A318 twinjets as a trade-in for four Boeing 747SPs.

A second potential launch customer, Air France, has asked CFM International to offer the CFM56-5A as an alternative powerplant (Flight International, 21-27 April).

P&W has moved to secure its sole position on the A318 with a memorandum to buy back all four of Air China's JT9D-powered 747SPs in return for the carrier committing to the PW6000. The US engine maker is understood to have agreed to a scrap value for the 19-year-old jets and engines, which are likely to be stripped for spares.

Air China joins Egyptair, International Lease Finance, TWA and, possibly, Aeropostal as prospective launch carriers for the 107-seat A318. An industrial go-ahead appears to hinge on Airbus securing a commitment from Lufthansa and Air France.

Lufthansa is resisting placing a launch order for the A318, as it did for the A340-500/600. The German national airline is expected instead to issue a letter of support for the programme without committing to any firm orders.

Air France is pressing for a choice of engines before placing an expected 18-aircraft order. The PW6000 is so far the only engine offered on the A318, but P&W's agreement with Airbus is not exclusive. "The door was never completely closed on the A318-Air France-has asked us to consider looking at an engine for the A318," says CFMI.

Air France operates a large fleet of CFM56-powered A320s. Commonality aside, political considerations are likely to demand a version of the engine to be offered for the A318, given Snecma's 25% stake in CFMI.

A CFM56-5-powered A318 would present a challenge to P&W's strategy of dominating the small mass engine market with the PW6000 and its planned follow-on PW8000 geared-fan derivative.

Source: Flight International