Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Airbus Industrie predicts that the world's four main airline alliance groupings will absorb almost three quarters of all A3XX-sized aircraft delivered by 2020, with most going to just two - oneworld and Star Alliance.

Moves by the major alliances to combine their networks and improve asset utilisation will lead to strong demand for 480/660-seat aircraft such as the A3XX, Airbus senior vice president, large aircraft, Jurgen Thomas, said at Munich Technical University on 25 February. The move towards very large aircraft will be further driven by the need to optimise frequencies to meet demand on key trunk and hub-to-hub routes, he says.

Oneworld and Star, together with the Delta/Swissair and Northwest/KLM-led alliances, will account for 56% of world airline traffic, 61% of revenues and 47% of the world fleet of aircraft with more than 75 seats by 2020, including 72% of very large aircraft, Airbus believes.

"The current alliances cover a major part of the air traffic market and the future need for A3XX-type aircraft," says Thomas.

The consortium's analysis includes the assumption that Japan Airlines (JAL) will become a full member of oneworld, and that All Nippon Airways and Singapore Airlines will join Star.

Thomas reveals that JAL, which has never bought an Airbus product, is pushing the consortium to develop a structurally strengthened 750-seat short-range version of the A3XX, dubbed the -100D, for its high-density domestic routes. The Japanese flag-carrier's fleet of 80 747s is the world's largest, and the airline is a crucial potential customer for the A3XX.

Following the recent decision to push back the entry-into-service date of the A3XX to mid-2005, a revised development timetable has been drawn up.

A preliminary design freeze has been achieved, but the supervisory board is not due to approve formal offers to be made to airlines until the beginning of 2000. A launch decision is required in the second-quarter of 2000, leading to the start of final assembly in mid-2003 and a maiden flight at the end of the first quarter of 2004. A major issue to be resolved before a price can be set for the A3XX is where final assembly will take place.

Airbus plans to place 40% of the project with outside risk-sharing partners, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) says it is in talks with Airbus on future subcontract work for the A3XX and other current programmes. But the company denies Japanese media reports that a deal has already been secured with Airbus to participate in the development of the A3XX.

Source: Flight International