Airbus prepares to compete for Japanese business with new short-haul design

All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Boeing are in detailed discussions over the specifications of the proposed short-range (SR) variant of the 7E7, which could result in a launch order around mid-year.

Industry sources says ANA is ready to commit to ordering 7E7s if operating efficiencies for short-haul flights are sufficient, although Airbus is vying to compete with an all-new short-haul design. If a 7E7 deal is agreed, ANA will not announce an order until after its June shareholders' meeting.

Airbus confirms it has discussed with ANA and Japan Airlines (JAL) a new medium-size aircraft for the short-haul market. Airbus believes its A330 and Boeing's 767, 777 and 7E7 are not ideal for Japan's domestic market and that developing a new widebody from scratch for short-haul flights would better meet the needs of Japanese carriers.

Airbus's long-term plans for a new short-range airliner were detailed by chief commercial officer John Leahy last year. He said that the aircraft, dubbed "A30X", would be "optimised for stage lengths of 1,000nm [1,850km]" and could be launched "around the end of this decade, to enable an entry-into-service in 2014-15". Airbus Japan says a decision on whether to offer the aircraft will not be made until at least 2006.

As a result, Airbus will only be able to compete to replace ANA Boeing 767s if the carrier decides against placing a 7E7SR order this year. ANA has not yet issued a request for proposals (RFP) for 767 replacements and sources say the carrier is considering ordering 7E7s without a formal tender.

ANA confirms the carrier is looking at the 7E7SR, but declines to discuss the specifications sought or the timing of a possible order.

JAL issued an RFP last October for Airbus A300 and 767 replacements, but has since delayed any consideration of the 7E7. At this point ANA is the more likely launch customer.

"We are certainly interested in this aircraft, but we are in no hurry to make a decision and are under no pressure," says JAL. The carrier does not plan to begin replacing 767s until at least 2008.

ANA and JAL say they will consider the Airbus offering as well as all three variants of the 7E7 - baseline, stretched and SR. JAL could use all three variants, but is expected to initially operate 7E7s internationally and later add 7E7SRs. ANA, on the other hand, is looking at initially ordering the SR variant.

Sources say Boeing aims to line up three to four launch customers by July's Farnborough air show, with deliveries to customers interested in the baseline or stretched variant ahead of deliveries to ANA.


Source: Flight International