Julian Moxon/PARIS

A STRING OF major airline orders involving the Boeing 747/777 combination is increasing pressure on Airbus Industrie to "accelerate its studies" into a rival programme known as the A3XX.

"We can't leave the 747 to dominate the market," says an Airbus source, "so we are intensifying our work on design and development of the A3XX" - a message understood to have been reinforced by Jean Pierson, the Airbus consortium managing director, during a New Year briefing to staff in Toulouse.

Despite some recent sales of its 290-to 440-seat A330/340, sales of high capacity wide-bodies have recently been dominated by Boeing. The lack of a 747 competitor, leaves Airbus able to compete on just 70% of the overall airliner market and with market predictions showing increasing emphasis, on the top end of the capacity scale, Airbus stands to see its market coverage reduced to 60% or even 50%, over the next ten years.

The consortium is actively engaged in looking for partners to help shoulder the $8 billion launch cost of the all-new 450-to 600-seat A3XX. The launch decision could be made, by late 1997 or early 1998.

Design of the A3XX is effectively settled: it centres on an ovoid fuselage section of similar length to that of the 747, with a slightly greater wingspan. Airbus has consistently said, that the new aircraft must have operating costs, at least 15% lower than those of the 747.

This may be difficult if Boeing goes ahead with plans to increase the passenger capacity of its market leader. Ron Woodard, president of Boeing's Commercial Airplane Group, confirmed on 4 January, that the company is actively exploring two new versions of the 747 with a new wing, longer range and capacity for more passengers.

Source: Flight International