Manufacturers have Cathay Pacific in sights as proposals for Trent 600-powered version of -400XQLR gather pace

Boeing and Rolls-Royce are hoping within a matter of weeks to finalise an agreement on proposals for a Trent 600-powered version of the planned 747-400X Quiet Longer Range (QLR).

Cathay Pacific Airways is one of the first carriers to be targeted for a launch offer. The Hong Kong-based airline is still considering the Airbus A380 as an alternative or supplement to the planned 747 growth derivative.

R-R started formal talks with Boeing last week, following the decision by the manufacturer to open up the 747-400XQLR to a new engine in an effort to kickstart the stalled programme (Flight International, 13-19 August). Many prospective 747-400XQLR launch customers are, like Cathay Pacific, established Trent operators, including Lufthansa, Qantas and Singapore Airlines (SIA).

A key demand of many of these carriers has been guaranteed London Heathrow QC2 noise performance at the higher operating weight of 418,100kg (921,000lb), in addition to the lower 397,250kg maximum take-off weight.

R-R says the Trent 600 will meet both requirements, unlike the current General Electric CF6-80C2, without further investment by the manufacturer.

Boeing says it is now in "ongoing discussions" with GE and R-R, adding: "We're hoping that in the fourth quarter of this year we will have agreements that would allow us to offer QC2 at all weights. Talks with the engine makers are being dovetailed with a new round of discussions with potential 747-400XQLR customers."

With Cathay Pacific having already said it expects to make a decision by early next year on ordering or leasing the A380, Boeing is keen to table a competing 747-400XQLR proposal, possibly as soon as this month. But the 747-400 is not without its critics within the airline, who regard the aircraft as over priced and outdated.

According to sources, some within the carrier support an order for both aircraft, with the A380 seen as suitable for heavily used trunk routes to Europe and the 747XQLR for transpacific routes requiring extra range, such as Hong Kong-New York non-stop and year-round maximum payload flights to the US West Coast. The airline also regards the 747-400XQLR as an attractive freighter option.

However, Cathay is unlikely to order enough aircraft or be willing to launch the programme by itself. Lufthansa and SIA have already looked at the CF6-powered version as a supplement to their existing A380 order, while Qantas is considering a heavier, longer-range follow-on to its planned 747-400ER. Cargolux is also known to be looking at adding more aircraft from 2006, but it is another key Airbus target for the A380-800F.

Additional reporting by Nicholas Ionides in Singapore

Source: Flight International