Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON Paul Lewis/WASHINGTON DC

Prospects for an early launch of Airbus Industrie's proposed A330-500 "shrink" are rapidly diminishing, after the 220-seater received a lukewarm reception in the marketplace.

Formally announced at the Farnborough air show in July, the short fuselage derivative of the A330 twinjet is being proposed by Airbus as a new technology replacement for the consortium's original models, the A300/A310 family. Two leasing companies - International Lease Finance (ILFC) and CIT Aerospace - had indicated that they were interested, and Airbus had been confident that the new model would get the go-ahead by the year-end, to enable service entry in early 2004.

Despite the lessors' initial interest, however, potential airline customers such as Lufthansa and Hapag-Lloyd (who need an A300/ A310 replacement) are known to be unimpressed by the long-range A330-500, and favour a more refined design optimised for shorter-range missions.

Singapore Airlines is one of the few carriers looking at the A330-500 as part of its requirement for a A310 replacement. SIA, though, is looking primarily at the A330-200, with conversion rights to the -500. While it requires the smaller capacity of the -500, the long-haul capability is mismatched for many of its regional routes. It is expected to make a decision by January.

Lack of demand by airlines has caused the leasing companies' interest to wane, say sources close to the manufacturer. "There are not a lot of imminent launch prospects," says one source. Although ILFC has said that it would be prepared to order as many as 30 -500s, Airbus is understood to be wary of the order as it is conscious that the leasing company would demand the right to convert the aircraft to larger A330-200 or -300 if the market proved weak.

Sources say that the imminent arrival of the A3XX as a firm programme is also making Airbus cautious of committing to the A330 derivative, because the 550-seater will likely consume the bulk of the manufacturer's engineering resources in the near term.

Source: Flight International