Paul Lewis/WASHINGTON DC Julian Moxon/PARIS Chris Jasper/LONDON


Airbus Industrie has begun submitting proposals to airlines it regards as key potential customers for the A3XX as it bids to rack up sufficient commitments for the 480-660 seat family to be launched later this year. Unofficial agreement has been reached on assembly of the aircraft in Toulouse, while the first tranches of launch aid have been confirmed.

Airbus has submitted A3XX proposals to Cathay Pacific Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines, for deals of 12-15 aircraft each. In parallel with these offers, discussions are under way with cargo carriers including Atlas Air, Cargolux, Lufthansa Cargo and FedEx. The latter is understood to be discussing a major order structured through a link with leasing company GE Capital Aviation Services.

Airbus president Noel Forgeard began a world tour of key airlines last month, visiting Asian carriers, and will go on to North America and Europe. BAE Systems chief operating officer Mike Turner says no targets for order or airline numbers have been set, and that it is more important to secure "a range of major airline customers covering all the major global alliances".

He says "a large number of airline commitments" have effectively been secured, but that penetration of the four major alliances is deemed key as the groups may structure ultra-large airliner orders around a single type, adding that "if we can secure a first wave of major customers, we would expect other airlines to follow".

The current A3XX list price is $218-$240 million for the 555-seat -100 and $244 million-$253 million for the 656-seat -200, although Cathay corporate development director Tony Tyler says Airbus is offering "very handy" airframe discounts to customers. "If they can get seat-mile costs down by about 20% [compared to the Boeing 747], we are very interested," he says. Cathay is exploring partial replacement of its 747-400 fleet beyond 2005 as part of a study to be completed by July.

Interest from cargo operators is such that launch of the A3XX-100F cargo variant, initially planned for six months after the passenger version, could run parallel to it. "We had aimed to go with the -100 and -200 passenger aircraft first, but the freighter could now come after the -100," confirms Turner. The cargo variant will take longer to develop, however, leading to service entry about two years after the 2005 target for the first passenger version.

The UK Government has meanwhile approved a £530 million ($835 million) aid grant to 20% Airbus shareholder BAE Systems for A3XX development. The loan - the first to be secured - is part of $3.15 billion to be raised as the UK's contribution to a total launch budget of around $12 billion.

Boeing has complained about the size of the handout, although Airbus claims the reimbursable funding falls within the provisions of a 1992 agreement between the USA and Europe covering support for new aircraft programmes. "We've been through this before," says the consortium. "This funding is always repaid to governments through the sales of aircraft, according to the agreement."

Sources say the four Airbus partners have reached unofficial agreement on A3XX final assembly taking place in Toulouse at the Aerospatiale Matra site. An overall rationalisation of production will see DaimlerChrysler Aerospace's Hamburg facility take over final assembly of all single-aisle Airbuses, with Toulouse assembling the widebodies.

The two soon-to-merge companies officially state no decision has been taken, although Dasa chief executive Rainer Hertrich admits "good progress" has been made.

Source: Flight International