Clear differences have begun to emerge between Airbus Industrie and Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) over the longer-term direction of the proposed A318/AE100 programme, with the European consortium pressing for the development of a smaller, rather than larger, aircraft.

Negotiators from Airbus subsidiary joint venture, Airbus Industrie Asia (AIA), have reached tacit agreement with AVIC on the initial development of two basic versions, seating 100 and 125 passengers in a single class, 813mm seat-pitch configuration. The two sides hope to conclude a preliminary accord during French president Chirac's visit to China in May.

AIA's parent consortium in Toulouse and AVIC differ, however, on how to develop the aircraft's baseline design. Airbus wants priority to be given to shrinking the A318/AE100, while AVIC is pushing to develop a larger, 135- to 140-seat, stretched version.

"We're concentrating primarily on the 100-seater category," says Airbus senior vice-president John Leahy. "From our point of view, the next step in that category would be the 85-seater-that's the most logical way," he adds.

Airbus says that it would then have an aircraft in a size category not now contested by Boeing, offering cockpit commonality with its larger product line. Airbus is also keen to avoid having a larger AE100 version overlap with its products. "If you look at stretching that aircraft, you immediately compete, not just with the A319, but with Boeing," argues Leahy.

AVIC has other plans, however. "They want to have a smaller aircraft and we can understand that, but it's different from our intentions. We want to grow the aircraft upwards and so we've had differences on this," says Tang Xiao Ping, AVIC director-general of international co-operation and trade. Officials within the European consortium quietly suggest that the real differences are between Airbus' commercial directorate, headed by Leahy, and AIA.

Airbus has also confirmed that it is bidding to supply a follow-on batch to the 30 A320s sold to China Aviation Supplies in 1996.

Source: Flight International