AIRBUS INDUSTRIE IS TO set up a new division to develop its proposed A3XX, with the aircraft now expected to go into service as early as 2002.

The division will bring together personnel from the partner companies, and Airbus Industrie itself, under the leadership of an A3XX programme director, says Airbus strategic-planning vice-president Adam Brown.

The new A3XX division will also " closely with key potential customers to define the aircraft", says Brown in a statement handed to Flight International at the Speednews Aviation Industries Suppliers conference, in Los Angeles, California, on 12-13 March.

Boeing took a similar approach on its successful development of the 777, using the new programme to bring in new design, manufacturing and marketing techniques which have since filtered down to other programmes.

The Airbus partners have already made it clear that they will take a fresh look at the consortium's structure with the launch of the A3XX. Reforms are likely to include new financing options and the inclusion of new partners, possibly from Italy and Asia, as well as greater integration of design and customer-support functions within Airbus.

There are also suggestions that the A3XX's planned entry-into-service date has been brought forward to 2002. The move would help to reduce Boeing's time-scale advantage with its proposed launches of two new 747-400 derivatives, in the form of the stretched -600 and longer-range -500.

David Bradley, Airbus projects and policies staff director, speaking at the conference, said that the A3XX, " now entering a very serious pre-analysis phase. The 747's lonely position will be challenged."

The plans are for an aircraft family starting at 500-650 seats and with a range of more than 13,700km (7,400nm), but with "considerable potential for further development", says Adam Brown, Airbus strategic-planning director. He adds that the aircraft will also offer direct operating costs "at least" 15% better than those of the 747 family.

Boeing is expected to announce the final external configuration of the 747-500X and -600X at a meeting with its airline advisory group on 18 April.

The company says that the outline design is "significantly different" from all published renditions appearing to date, and adds that the revised configuration is now undergoing a second phase of wind tunnel testing.

Source: Flight International