Airbus expects to see a request for proposals from All Nippon Airways in the large-aircraft class "within a year".

Speaking at the handover ceremony of the first A380 to Singapore Airlines, earlier in October, Airbus chief operating officer customers John Leahy said that ANA and Air India were the two most active discussions that the manufacturer was now engaged in over the type.

"It is no secret that the Japanese have been very close to Boeing over the years. But so was British Airways (now an A380 customer).

"We are in discussions right now about this aircraft with ANA. They have not issued an RFP (request for proposals). I think there will be one within a year."

Any move towards the A380 - or Boeing 747-8 - would be significant as ANA has been pursuing a strategy of downsizing it long-haul fleet, with Boeing 777-300ERs replacing the 11 747-400s operated on international services.

The airline declines to say whether it is planning to issue an RFP within the next 12 months, but confirms that the A380 is under evaluation. "We are studying the A380 and we do talk to Airbus But (an order for the A380) is not a decision we would arrive at quickly."

However, if an A380 order was placed, ANA says that the aircraft would probably be used to high-traffic, long-haul destinations such as Frankfurt and New York. "There are days in summer where every ANA aircraft to North America has 100% passenger load factor", it says, adding that the passenger load factor on ANA flights to Europe is 80-90%.

ANA also has 10 747-400Ds equipped with a high-density 570-seat layout. These are used on high-volume domestic routes from Tokyo Haneda. The airline rules out any prospect that these could be replaced with A380s, as a new runway will open at Haneda in 2010 that should significantly reduce slot constraints.