Max Kingsley-Jones/PARIS


Airbus Industrie aims to complete the baseline definition of the A3XX programme by the end of this year and to finalise the selection of the assembly location and production method. This will ensure that the consortium is ready to begin taking commitments early next year in preparation for a launch decision by the end of 2000.

According to Philippe Jarry, head of marketing for the $12 billion, 480/660-seat project, Airbus has 650 people working on the programme and is on target to achieve "authority to offer" status by year-end. "By then, we will know 'what, how, with whom and where' we are building the A3XX, and at what price," he says. "This will enable us to sign commitments from launch customers," he adds.

If all goes to the current plan, Airbus aims to launch the A3XX programme during the second half of next year, to ensure that first flight occurs in 2004 and service entry in mid-2005. "We will only launch in 2000 if we get commitments from customers," says Jarry.

Five sites are competing for the A3XX final assembly line, including Hamburg and Toulouse - acknowledged as the strongest contenders. Two production methods are being examined, depending on the site chosen. "We won't let the final assembly location/method compromise the aircraft design," says Jarry.

New methods of transportation are being considered to bring A3XX components to the assembly line. "We are studying a piggy-back method to transport the wings externally above the fuselage of an A340. Other options being considered to transport the large sections are hovercraft or ships," says Jarry.

The formal introduction of the freighter version into the A3XX market studies, which has boosted overall sales prospects by 25%, adds pressure to the timetable. Jarry says that the first freighter will follow about two years behind the first passenger model, and a joint launch of both is a serious proposition. The timing of the demand from cargo operators is such that the sales "window of opportunity" is in the 2007 timeframe and, if an A3XX freighter is not available, then Airbus risks losing sales to new Boeing 747 freighter derivatives.

The delay in the A3XX schedule from its original in-service target of 2003 has provided the engine suppliers - Rolls-Royce and the General Electric/Pratt & Whitney joint-venture Engine Alliance - time to improve their offerings. "The Engine Alliance is significantly improving its engine with 2005 technology," says Jarry. The joint venture will run a core engine technology demonstrator in October and claims to have found 2% better fuel efficiency over the past 18 months, combined with a 180kg (400lb) weight saving. The compressor features a swept-blade design, and a similar configuration is being considered for the fan.

Source: Flight International