Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON Julian Moxon/PARIS
Airbus Industrie's plans to compete head-on with Boeing in the large airliner market are gathering momentum, with the consortium concluding the first agreement with an engine manufacturer to provide a power plant for the new aircraft.
Airbus and Rolls-Royce signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) specifying the Trent 900 for the A3XX, which Airbus says "-paves the way to make more detailed offers on A3XX performance to the airlines". A similar agreement is expected to be concluded soon with the General Electric-Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance, for the joint venture's GP7000 power plant. The thrust requirements for the four-engined A3XX will range between 320kN and 347kN (72,000lb and 79,000lb) per engine. The aircraft manufacturer recently accelerated its project and now plans to put proposals before airlines by the turn of the year.
Two versions of the A3XX are being proposed, including the basic 555-seat (three-class) A3XX-100 with a range of 13,900km, (7,500nm), and the stretched 656-seat -200. A longer-range, higher- gross-weight derivative of the A3XX-100, the -100R will be able to fly a further 1,800km.
In an unexpected move foreshadowing the competition brewing between Boeing and Airbus, the consortium's senior vice-president John Leahy has revealed that the A3XX will be offered at "no more than $198 million" (1998 dollars). This would undercut the expected $200 million charge for Boeing's 747-500X and 747-600X.
An Airbus source confirms that the A3XX price would cover airframe, engines and some buyer-furnished equipment such as the inflight entertainment system. Development cost of the all-new aircraft has been put at $8 billion. Boeing president Ron Woodard has recently put the development cost of 747 derivatives at around $7 billion - 40% higher than previous estimates, adding that the project launch may slip from the end of this year by several months. "We have to convince the airlines of our business case," says an Airbus source. "The more Boeing slips to the right, the better it is for us".
Airbus, which forecasts a market for a total of 1,380 airliners with at least 500 seats, worth $280 billion through to 2014, is targeting a 2003 entry-into-service date for the new airliner. Boeing is aiming to begin deliveries of its new stretched 747 derivatives about three years earlier.
Saab AB president Bengt Halse says that the Swedish company is meeting with "very positive responses" from Airbus on participation in the A3XX. "For political, financial and technological reasons, Europe must bring together its resources and involve Saab and [Italian manufacturer] Alenia in the A3XX, even though they are outside the consortium at present".
A3XX Specification (November 1996)
VariantPax (three-class)Range (km)Max take-off weight (t)Thrust (kN)