Airbus Industrie is sticking to its claim that it will be able to generate enough airline interest in the A3XX to achieve a commercial launch by mid-year, despite sceptical comments by some key potential customers and a pessimistic forecast from the US consultancy, the Teal Group.

The consortium plans to begin delivering the 550-seat A3XX-100 to operators in late 2005, but Teal's latest 10-year airliner deliveries forecast predicts that the market will not demand such an aircraft until 2009, when six will be required. The US consultants believe that deliveries of the A3XX could proceed at the rate of three aircraft a month in subsequent years.

Airbus vice-president for A3XX market development, Philippe Jarry, rejects the findings, saying some airlines will begin replacing 747-400s in 2005 and that fragmentation will fail to ease demand on the most heavily travelled routes.

"The 747-400 fleet displacement process will start in 2005, when the oldest aircraft are 15-16 years old," says Jarry. "You have airlines who have a policy of replacing their aircraft early, so we believe 2005 is in line with market requirements," he adds.

Recent statements by airlines such as Lufthansa that they are unlikely to commit to the aircraft this year are due at least in part to a reluctance to publicise future fleet plans, Jarry believes.

He concedes, meanwhile, that airlines have shown "zero" interest in the proposed 480-seat A3XX shrink, designated the -50R. He believes this variant could eventually find a niche in ultra-long range markets.

Airbus hopes to launch the A3XX-100 and -100F freighter simultaneously by the end of this year, although the cargo version is not due to enter service until 2007.

While some airlines are playing down their interest, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is strongly indicating that it wants to be among the launch carriers for the A3XX, say industry sources.

• Hurel-Dubois has signed a framework agreement with Airbus to take up to a 2% risk-sharing stake in the A3XX. The French company hopes to win aerostructures and engine nacelle systems work on the aircraft.

Source: Flight International