PAUL LEWIS / WASHINGTON DC & GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES
European manufacturer could begin serious mid-market development work after A380
Airbus is looking at several long- term concepts for countering Boeing's proposed new 7E7-300X/400X, but with current thinking focused on replacing today's shorter-range A300/A310 family of aircraft, it may challenge Boeing at the opposite end of the future medium-size aircraft market.
The European manufacturer is stressing that any new development will come after the A380 ultra-large airliner, which is due to enter service in early 2006, while near-term efforts are focused on putting the delayed A340-500 and A318 derivatives into service this year. Industry sources say it would be 2010 before Airbus could field a new 220- to 250-seat successor to the A310/A330, which has been tentatively designated the A305.
Boeing is initially focusing on developing a family of long-range aircraft, the 14,430km (7,800nm)- range 7E7-300X and 13,320km- range -400X stretch, seating 228 and 268 passengers respectively. The US manufacturer surveyed potential airline operators shortly before the 7E7 was officially announced and found two different camps: those needing an aircraft in the 11,100-14,800km range and another seeking around a 7,400km performance.
It is understood the A305, while roughly similar in seat size to the 7E7-300X, would initially be designed to address the latter group of carriers. Airbus's strategy in the longer term, suggest the sources, would be to grow and possibly re-wing the aircraft as a future replacement for the 10,360-11,840km range A330-200/300, which in its current form will face stiff competition from the 7E7's promised extra range and better economics. Boeing's dilemma will be to either shrink the range of the 7E7 or convince carriers to misuse the aircraft over shorter distances.
Boeing is months away from defining the 7E7 and so far concedes only that "there will be two body lengths". According to Mike Bair, vice-president for Boeing's 7E7 programme, "we're not done with the definition yet though already we think that Lufthansa would use it inside Europe, if they buy it, while others will take it across the Pacific".