Airbus Industrie is on the verge of finally launching the A318 twinjet. At the same time the European consortium has signed Egyptair as a launch customer while engine supplier Pratt & Whitney is pursuing a trade-in deal with Air China to exchange old Boeing 747s for A318 orders.

An industrial launch of the 107-seat, PW6000-powered A320 derivative is believed to be imminent. A full go-ahead could come as early as the 15 April handover of the 1,000th A320 model at Hamburg, an A319 to Air France leased from International Lease Finance. The French national carrier, with Lufthansa, has been negotiating with Airbus for 15-20 A318s and options.

Another A320 operator, Egyptair, has meanwhile concluded an order for three aircraft. Aeropostal of Venezuela has been reported as agreeing to order four, along with eight larger A319s and A320s to replace the Caracas-based airline's McDonnell Douglas DC-9s.

The A318 is also being heavily promoted in China, which many view as a bold move, given that it supplants Airbus' stillborn 80-100 seat AE31X collaborative project with Aviation Industries of China. P&W is understood to have proposed to Air China a trade-in on some of its elderly JT9D-powered Boeing 747-200s and SPs for A318s. State-run China Aircraft Supplies, however, favours holding a competition with the Boeing 717.

Airbus has already signed a letter of intent with TWA for 50 A318s for delivery from 2003 and with International Lease Finance (ILFC) for 30 aircraft. ILFC's commitment to the aircraft is contingent on Airbus securing additional orders for the aircraft and launching it by the end of June.

The new A320 model was commercially launched at the Farnborough Air Show in September, giving the consortium a rival to the Boeing 717 in the important 100-seat market.

The A318 programme was set for a final go-ahead by the end of last year, but was pushed back to the end of March. Any further delay is likely to hit the A318's in-service date of September 2002.

Source: Flight International