AIRBUS INDUSTRIE partner Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA) wants the consortium to drop its A3XX 500- to 650-plus-passenger aircraft study in favour of a 400- to 550-seat aircraft to rival new stretched variants of the Boeing 747 now under study.

The DASA move comes in the wake of recent bruising defeats at the hands of Boeing in major widebody contests at Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Malaysian Airlines (MAS). The defeats caused DASA to re-examine the A3XX strategy, and it concludes that a 400- to 550-seater, dubbed the P4XX, is its preferred option.

Dietrich Russell, president of DASA's aircraft group, says that one of the reasons for losing the South-East Asian battles was the lack of a 747-sized aircraft: "We had no double pack to offer." The MAS order is for a mix of Boeing 777s and 747s, while SIA has ordered 777s, with conversion options on 747-400s/-500s/-600s.

Airbus has responded to the DASA strategy switch by saying that the partners are free to study whatever size of aircraft they like, but that it remains wedded to the 500- to 650-seat A3XX, which has a potential to be grown to 800 seats.

DASA, the senior partner in Airbus alongside France's Aerospatiale, argues that the P4XX concept gives an aircraft " complement the A330/A340 at the upper edge ...Airbus needs an aircraft above the A330/A340. The question is which seating capacity to choose. We [DASA] think we need an aircraft of between 400 and 550 seats."

DASA is seeking discussions with its industrial partners in the European consortium to bring about a rethink.

Airbus argues that it does not want to go head-to-head against new derivatives of the 747 family, but prefers to offer airlines an aircraft beyond the 747 range. The consortium is now anxiously pursuing studies into the $8 billion A3XX and could make a decision around the turn of the year.

It was DASA which led the Airbus partners into the abortive Very Large Transport Aircraft studies with Boeing, examining an aircraft with up to 800 seats.

The studies are widely considered within Airbus to have represented a dead end, their only effect being to delay the launch of the A3XX by two years.

Source: Flight International