Airbus Industrie is targeting the end of April for a final decision on a new engine for the A340-500/600 growth derivatives, clearing the way for the programme to be officially launched at the Paris air show in June.

The European consortium is in talks with Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney on proposed new derivative-engine developments for the ultra-long-haul A340-500 and stretch -600. Potential launch customers are pressing Airbus for a choice of engines, but a final decision rests on the commercial agreements reached with R-R or P&W, says the company. According to Airbus senior vice-president John Leahy, "-the key thing is, we're ready to go with the aeroplane and we are trying to finalise the situation with the engine".

Airbus wants to resolve the issue in time for the meeting of its A340-500/600 airline focus group on 29-30 April. "We want to see about 40 aircraft as a launch package for the A340-500/600," says Leahy.

Asia-Pacific carriers appear to be among the strongest supporters for the 15,350km (8,300nm)-range A340-500, which for the first time would be capable of non-stop flights from Hong Kong to New York and between South-East Asia and the US West Coast. US and European airlines are interested in the larger 382-seat -600 as a replacement for the 747-200/300.

Airbus' -500 sales efforts are focused primarily on Cathay Pacific, which is discussing an order for Ìve aircraft. The consortium is also looking to Singapore Airlines and possibly Thai Airways International as launch customers for the 313-seat aircraft, but faces strong competition from Boeing with its proposed 777-200X.

The A340-500/600 programme schedule calls for the start of production in the third quarter of 1998, with final assembly of the first aircraft in early 2000. Flight testing is to begin in the third quarter of 2000, with certification and delivery about 12 months later.

Source: Flight International