Paul Lewis/DUBAI

Emirates Airlines has signed a letter of intent (LoI) for 12 Airbus A340-500s, increasing the consortium's commitments for the -500 and -600 derivatives to 78 from seven international carriers.

The United Arab Emirates carrier joined a growing list of launch customers, after inking an LoI to order six A340-500s plus six options. Emirates still holds options on five 777s and Boeing remains confident that the airline will order its rival -200X version.

Airbus has agreements in hand for 51 firm orders and at least 27 options for the new A340. Lufthansa and Swissair are also understood to have signed LoIs for ten A340-500s and nine -600s respectively, and Egyptair has announced plans to buy two -600s, with options on two more.

Already announced commitments include six A340-500s and six options for EVA Air, eight -600s and eight options for Virgin Atlantic, and two -500s, three -600s and ten options for Air Canada. Air Mauritius may upgrade two A340-300 options.

"We have significantly exceeded the number of launch orders and customers set by our supervisory board," says Airbus commercial senior vice-president John Leahy. "I would hope we have a launch announcement in the not-too-distant future."

Airbus had been hoping to commit to the industrial launch of the ultra-long-haul A340-500 and stretched -600 by mid-November, but a final go-ahead has been delayed as partner British Aerospace awaits a UK Government answer on launch aid. BAe is asking for £120 million ($200 million) in repayable loans to help finance development of a new wing.

The delay has given other potential launch customers extra time to decide on committing to the aircraft. Singapore Airlines (SIA) is wavering between ordering ten A340-500s or nine Boeing 777-200X twinjets. Airbus is understood to have given the carrier until the end of November to decide whether to become a launch customer, while Boeing has extended its offer by a further week.

SIA has been seeking assurances on year-round payload/range performance to the US West Coast, as well as a guarantee from Boeing that the 777-200X will be cleared for 180min extended-range twin-engine operations on entry into service. The two aircraft are at the absolute limit of performance on the 1,600km (8,790nm) route between Singapore and Los Angeles.

The carrier is concerned at the high load factors needed to break even and has been using this to seek further price concessions for the A340-500 and 777-200Xs. Airbus has told SIA that the price of the aircraft will rise once launched.

Source: Flight International