Several leading international airlines have agreed to study the possibility of standardising aircraft configurations to cut the costs associated with customisation. Introducing the initiative in Washington DC on 5 November, United Airlines chairman Gerald Greenwald said: "Standardisation can save airlines a lot of money."

Customisation adds 3-4% to aircraft costs, but Greenwald believes it could be possible to reduce prices by 10-20% if standardisation allows manufacturers to produce aircraft with maximum efficiency.

The airframers are more cautious. Airbus Industrie vice-president for commercial operations, Paul Mason, says that it should be possible to reduce cabin configuration costs by 20% using standard modules, but John Roundhill, Boeing vice-president for product strategy and development, says savings could be greater if standardisation flows back into production.

An airline task force is to be formed under the aegis of the Society of Automotive Engineers' Aerospace group and will report to the US Air Transport Association's senior advisory committee by next May on whether the standard aircraft concept is viable and, if so, to what extent and in which areas. Carriers which have agreed to participate include British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa and United Airlines. Airbus and Boeing have also agreed to take part.

Greenwald suggests that customisation be limited "-to what passengers see, feel and taste". He wants manufacturers to offer a standard aircraft, with "regular options" that are already engineered, certificated and priced; and "specials", for which the added cost and time is visible to the customer. He also believes that airframers should "batch" changes, to increase standardisation within airline fleets.

Although he describes as "deplorable" the cost and time required to certificate custom airline seats, the task force is expected to stay away from the competitively sensitive issue of cabin configuration. It will only examine areas with potential for standardisation.

Source: Flight International