Proposals would give ultra-long-range airliner significant increase in payload or range to battle Boeing's 777-200LR
Airbus is proposing to wring more performance out of the ultra-long- range A340-500 with a higher- weight option. It is also tweaking the specification of the new high gross weight (HGW) A340-600 derivative to boost its payload capability in hot conditions.
Although Airbus has been unable to comment on the latest A340-500/600 plans, industry sources say it has briefed existing A340-500 operators Emirates and Singapore Airlines about a proposed version with 380t maximum take-off weight - 8t greater than the existing high-weight version - which would give the aircraft a significant increase in payload or range. Flight International understands that the new -500 model, which borrows structural changes developed for the A340-600HGW launched by Qatar Airways and Emirates at the Paris air show last year, would be available for delivery from 2008 if the manufacturer decides to go ahead.
SIA currently uses its A340-500s to operate the world's longest scheduled service - the 14,760km (7,980nm) flight between Los Angeles and Singapore - and will launch even longer flights to New York in June. The aircraft is configured with a spacious 181-seat layout, and it is understood that the higher weight version would provide up to 5-7t more payload - equivalent to more than 50 passengers. Alternatively, the higher weight would boost the -500's range beyond the existing 16,400km and give Airbus a major boost in its battle against the 17,000km-capable Boeing 777-200LR, which enters service in 2006.
Meanwhile, Airbus has increased the maximum take-off weight of the -600HGW by 4t to 380t to give operators more margin in difficult operating conditions. The HGW -600, which will enter service with Qatar Airways in mid-2006 and with Emirates at the end of that year, features airframe, landing gear and engine pylon reinforcements (Flight International, 14-20 October 2003).
According to industry sources, the 4t increase will boost the aircraft's payload capability from the Gulf to the US East Coast at higher temperatures.The newly established European Aviation Safety Agency has approved the Airbus A319, A320 and A321 twinjets for 180min extended twin-engine operations. Airbus is also pursuing authorisation for the A318.
MAX KINGSLEY-JONES / LONDON