Airbus seems happy to leave high-speed airliners to Boeing, claiming that the market will be driven primarily by improving economics rather than by reducing journey times.

Certain sectors of the industry have nicknamed Boeing's proposed sonic cruiser design the "chronic snoozer". Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard says that he is surprised at the interest being shown "in an aircraft that has a 20% increase in fuel consumption for a marginal increase in speed".

Airbus does not believe the concept is the answer to replacing the 767/ A300. It has "significant fuel consumption, noise and environmental issues", says Forgeard. Airbus has studied a number of high speed, transonic and supersonic configurations for future projects, but remains convinced that improvements in efficiency is where the future of civil aviation lies.

Although it acknowledges that there may be a small "premium market" for an aircraft that reduces journey times, the European manufacturer claims its studies of a high subsonic speed airliner suggest that the economics would make the aircraft unattractive.

"Our analysis suggests that Boeing's sonic cruiser would have seat mile costs at least 50% higher than the A380," says Airbus vice president marketing Colin Stuart. "The current configuration seems to be as long as a 747-400, but only seats 225 passengers. Its wing area is similar to that of the A380 and the aircraft has two 90,000lb thrust engines - the installed thrust of a 300-seater class aircraft like the 777 or A340."

Based on this analysis, Airbus forecasts that the sonic cruiser would have a fuel burn per seat 20% higher than current 300-seaters, and direct operating costs per seat some 20-25% higher, adds Stuart.

Source: Flight International