Airbus Industrie is working on a secret study into a 100-sear A319 which could provide the consortium with a quick response to the recent Boeing decision to launch the rival 717.
The studies centre around a five frame "shrink" of the A319 fuselage, which would bring two class capacity down from 124 seats to around 106. It is being referred to internally as the "A319M5". Airbus is understood to have approached BMW Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney for proposals on the BR715 and PW6000 powerplants, respectively. CFM International is also likely to have been approached about its CFM56-9 engine.
Airbus is also looking at retaining the existing powerplants as a simpler solution to an all-new installation, but this would generate cost and weight issues. Airbus was unable to comment.
The project is likely to require at least two years for development, meaning that the new version would not be available until mid-2000 at the earliest - at least 12 months after the 717-200.
Airbus and Alenia are already participating in the proposed 95-115-seat AE31X regional jet project through the Airbus Industrie Asia (AIA) joint venture, with Asian partners Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) and Singapore Technologies. The A319 work raises questions about the future of this programme. One observer says that it is "unclear whether the A319M5 studies are an interim solution while the AE31X partners consolidate, or an admission by Airbus that the joint venture programme may not go ahead".
There are several critical unresolved commercial and industrial issues which have prevented the partners reaching a joint venture business agreement. This should have been concluded last year.
Airbus has been trying to keep its unilateral A319 studies secret as they could be potentially damaging to its relationship with the Chinese as the two sides struggle to resolve their differences.
Speaking at Asian Aerospace '98, Jean Pierson, Airbus Industrie president, highlighted a key area of concern for the programme, saying that the consortium must work with its Asian partners to cut the cost of the proposed AE31X, but he believes that the programme should be on course to enable a launch decision to be made by the end of the year. Boeing has raised the stakes with a rumoured price of $18-20 million for the 717 in the 100-seat market.
AIA and AVIC have decided to move forward with the pre-development phase of the project despite the lack of support from Singapore Technologies and no formal business agreement.
Pierson says that the issue of the AE31X's cost versus selling price "...still gives us some headaches". He says that Airbus has not yet established how it can make the aircraft provide what the market wants at the right price, and will sell at a profit.