Boeing's recent sales successes in Asia with the B777 and B747 are forcing Airbus to consider an early launch for its A3XX project, as the US manufacturer prepares to stretch its largest jet.

While Airbus and its partners ponder the viability of their $8 billion programme, Boeing is preparing to launch two new versions of the B747 as early as this year. Borge Boeskov, Boeing's vice-president product strategy, says: 'We expect to do something before the end of this year' about launching two new B747 models, an ultra-long range B747-500X and a B747-600X, which would be stretched to seat 520-550 passengers.

Airbus is urging its partners to approve an A3XX launch within the next year or two, to avoid missing the replacement market for current B747s early next century. The consortium says that its A330/A340 programme is losing market share because Boeing's monopoly on the largest aircraft means it can offer an unbeatable package deal.

In order to boost its challenge, Airbus is now likely to launch the double-deck A3XX as a smaller aircraft than originally anticipated, with 550 seats leaving an option to stretch up to 700 later.

Airbus says the A3XX will be viable only if it can deliver operating costs per seat '15 per cent lower than the B747-400 or any possible development.' The European consortium will need new partners, ideally from Asia.

The need to develop the A3XX cost-effectively should accelerate moves to convert Airbus into a limited company. This would give Airbus true cost transparency and greater freedom to raise capital. A committee is due to report on this in mid-1996.

Richard Whitaker

Source: Airline Business