First shipsets of parts for potential Boeing 7E7 rival needed by July 2007, with first flight targeted for mid-2008

Airbus is stepping up pre-development work on its A350 concept, confirming at a suppliers' meeting in Bremen last week that the potential Boeing 7E7 rival would be based on the existing A330 family, incorporating 7E7 technology engines and a high level of composites. It aims to reduce airframe weight to enable the A350 to match or exceed the Boeing twinjet's superior maximum range.

Airbus told suppliers that initial "shipsets" of parts would be needed by July 2007 and its target for first flight is mid-2008.

"We have been told to make minimum changes for maximum benefits," says a supplier source.

Airbus is targeting several airlines as potential launch customers, including Lufthansa, Northwest Airlines, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. "Customers who were looking at the 7E7 suddenly have Airbus at their door. It's a shoot-out in the marketplace," says another source.

General Electric and Rolls-Royce are in talks with Airbus to supply versions of their 7E7 turbofans for the A350 with as few changes as possible. GE says: "We are talking to them every week, and we are following the aircraft very closely."

R-R also confirms it is discussing options for a virtually unchanged derivative of the 7E7's Trent 1000 with its 2.8m (112in) diameter fan. The Trent 1000 is targeted for engine certification in July 2007, providing a year-long margin before entry into service on the 7E7 and two years before the planned introduction of the A350 in 2009.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice-president business strategies and marketing Nicole Piasecki dismisses any threat to the 7E7 from the A350. "An A330 derivative will not get anywhere near the 7E7," she says. "Even with new wings and engines, it will be a compromised design. They will only get half-way to the range advantage of the 7E7."





Source: Flight International