Max Kingsley-Jones/TOULOUSE

Airbus Industrie says it is to start seeking launch commitments from airlines for the A3XX large aircraft early next year. One of the key potential customers, British Airways, has already indicated a requirement for up to 23 aircraft.

Jurgen Thomas, senior vice-president of Airbus Industrie's large aircraft division, says that the project is on schedule to achieve the "substantial programme decision" in December, which will "-launch the industrialisation programme and enable us to make offers to the airlines in spring 1999."

Thomas says Airbus will seek to secure letters from airlines stating their requirement for aircraft in the A3XX category. He adds that BA has already stated it has a requirement for 23 A3XX-sized aircraft. With the Asia Pacific region being the A3XX's largest target market, carriers such as Qantas, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines will follow, says Thomas.

Pledges from the airlines will be used to secure a full programme launch from the Airbus supervisory board in the fourth quarter of 1999, to enable the service entry target of October 2004 to be met. Late last year Airbus delayed the A3XX programme by 12 months when it decided that it had not established the technologies to achieve its target of 15-20% direct operating cost reductions over the 747-400.

Airbus is offering up to 40% of the programme to outside partners, and has revealed three new partners that have signed memoranda of understandings (MOU) "expressing their interest in risk sharing participation" in the A3XX to add to several companies which already have an agreement. The new partners include GKN Westland Aerospace Structures of the UK, Eurocopter and Aerostructures of the USA (which was previously a division of Textron). Thomas says that Airbus is also in discussions with undisclosed "east Asian companies" which are close to signing agreements to participate in the programme.

Airbus hopes to firm up a second engine choice on the A3XX soon, with the formal signing of an MoU with the GE PW Engine Alliance for the GP7200 to add to its existing agreement with Rolls-Royce for the Trent 900.

Thomas says that the "optimisation process" of the engine to meet Airbus' requirements has been completed, and agreement has been reached on all technical issues and business conditions.

Source: Flight International