Airbus Industrie hopes to launch its proposed mid-range A330-100 at the Farnborough air show in July, providing the basis of a twin-aisle replacement of the ageing A300-600 and A310.

Revealing the plan at the FIDAE 2000 air show in Chile last week, Airbus senior vice-president, commercial, John Leahy says the hybrid will combine the passenger capacity of the A300-600 with the flightdeck of the A330/A340. Deliveries of the shortened fuselage aircraft could begin in 2003.

Airbus is studying two wing design options, but expects both will contribute to a 6% lower fuel consumption over that of present models. It has decided against fitting a modified A330 wing.

"It will also have growth capability built into it," says Leahy, who explains that the baseline -100 design will have the flexibility to operate over ranges of 8,300-12,000km (4,500-6,500nm). The range options are believed to be included from the start to meet the widely varying requirements of two prime launch candidates, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and German charter carrier Hapag Lloyd.

Leahy also used the show to underscore Airbus' commitment to launching the A3XX, predicting that the programme would go ahead with "five or six launch airlines this year, and another 15-20 airlines in the next couple of years".

The Airbus vice-president, who met executives from the oneworld alliance in Chile on 29 March, says: "This aircraft will be launched this year. I am in final talks with some oneworld and Star airlines."

Although he declines to identify specific airlines, Leahy says the initial group is expected to consist of "two or three launch airlines in Asia, at least one or two in Europe, one in the Middle East and one or two in North America". Prime A3XX candidates are known to include Cargolux, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, FedEx, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines and SIA.

New data from Airbus claim the cash operating cost/seat of the 555-seat A3XX-100 is expected to be 17% lower than that of the Boeing 747-400, which seats 413. Direct operating cost/seat is predicted to be 16% lower than the -400's, while fuel consumption/seat is pegged at about 13% lower than the 747's.

Despite these gains, Airbus appears to be battling towards its original target of a 20% improvement over the 747-400 in terms of overall seat kilometre costs. Leahy says it will be in the 15-20% range.

In the face of growing demand for the A320 family, Airbus is also set to decide whether to raise the single-aisle monthly production rate from 26 to 28. Leahy says a further push to 30 a month will be considered, while a review of widebody production rates is expected to see levels raised from seven a month to "eight or nine".

Source: Flight International