Julian Moxon/TOULOUSE


Airbus Industrie and its partner companies have begun looking at configurations that could lead to the introduction of radical designs for new airliners in the next century. The first of a series of meetings to consider future concepts takes place in Toulouse, France, this week.

"We are examining all of the possibilities," says Alain Garcia, Airbus' technical director. These include "unconventional ideas" such as flying-wing and multi-wing/multi-fuselage configurations. Garcia has appointed Juan Herrera as chief engineer, future projects. "I have asked him to look at the merits of advanced configurations", he says. "It is fundamental to our strategy to consider the future". Herrera will work with Marc Vincendon, chief engineer, new technology, to co-ordinate input from Airbus partners, Aerospatiale Matra, British Aerospace, CASA, Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace and their respective national research organisations. "We will collect concepts from our partners and choose the best candidates", says Vincendon. "We will then do an exhaustive analysis. This is a very long term effort covering the full range of aircraft."

Airbus declined to speculate on which of its current range would be the first to benefit from an eventual change of configuration. The fast-selling A320 family is based on a late 1970s design, which saw the introduction of several new technologies, including digital fly-by-wire flight control. The latest member of the family, the 107-seat A318, will not enter service for another three years, however, and Airbus stresses that any replacement is "still a long way off. But we have to start thinking now."

However, the consortium is also aware that Boeing's competitor to the A320 range, the Next Generation 737 series, is based on a much older original design, and that the Seattle giant may "leapfrog" the European aircraft with a new offering. Airbus says it has to have "several cards ready to launch a new aircraft when it is appropriate with regard to market demand and the competition".

The A300/A310 is also due for replacement by about 2005. Garcia says shortening the fuselage of the 250-seat A330-200 (itself a shorter derivative of the 335-seat -300) remains an option (Flight International, 18-24 August). He adds that such a design "would be penalised", however, because of the production costs resulting from the probable need for a new wing. An all-new aircraft is understood to be still under consideration, although any radical change of configuration is thought unlikely because of the early market requirement.

Source: Flight International