Airbus Industrie has moved a step closer to a full programme launch of its A340-500/600 growth versions after signing a letter of intent with Taiwan's EVA Air for up to 12 aircraft.

The breakthrough for Airbus and Rolls-Royce, whose Trent 500 engine will power the new derivatives, may prompt a formal launch of the programme at the Dubai air show later this month.

In August, Virgin Atlantic Airways ordered 16 A340-600s, with eight firm orders, and Air Canada signed an agreement for 15 aircraft. With its six firm orders, and six options, EVA becomes the third airline to place launch commitments, and selected the aircraft over Boeing's proposed 777-200X. EVA has an all-Boeing fleet and the order is its first for Airbus aircraft.

Other airlines identified as key possible customers are Egyptair, Emirates, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Swissair, which are all evaluating the two competing aircraft. Virgin is due to be the first to put the A340-600 into service, in early 2002.

Source: Flight International