Julian Moxon/PARIS

Airbus Industrie is to delay the entry into service of its planned 555-seat A3XX by at least nine months, to the third quarter of 2004. The consortium claims that the delay is "minor" and says that the current economic chaos in key Asian markets is not responsible for the delay.

While Airbus says that putting back the in service date is of no consequence, rival Boeing has indicated that the delay may give it the room required to get a new stretched version of the 747 into the market ahead of the A3XX.

Airbus says that part of the reason for the delay is that it needs to "ensure that we have the right aircraft" before it is offered officially to the market. Toulouse admits that one of the principal design requirements of bringing A3XX direct operating costs to 15-20% below those of the rival Boeing 747-400 has "still not been resolved".

Reluctance by airlines to take on another new type while at a peak time of aircraft deliveries early in the next century is also being blamed.

Airbus reckons that levels of technologies employed on the A340, together with economies of scale, would cut operating costs by 10%, but, to meet promises it has made to potential customers of the four engined, double deck, conventionally configured A3XX, it is having to seek further significant savings in weight, fuel consumption, maintenance costs and cost of ownership. Design engineers from the four partners are said to be "working intensely" to meet the operating cost target.

The consortium, which is embroiled in restructuring into a single corporate entity, says only that the A3XX design is "still being refined. We will launch only when we are satisfied that this aircraft meets cost specifications and provides the right level of return on investment for the airlines that will operate it."

The cost of developing the A3XX is put at $8-10 billion, and Airbus continues to look for risk sharing partners, particularly from Asia, where the financial crisis affecting the region is dampening investment and fleet expansion ambitions. Airbus claims that the crisis will "have no effect" on the A3XX, however, saying: "It is only a blip that will have no effect on our long-term planning."

The initial design freeze came as planned at the end of 1997, "and we still intend to settle on the final configuration by the end of this year", Airbus says.

Source: Flight International