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Airbus pushes back window for next-generation A320

As the A320 family order backlog passes 2,500 aircraft, Airbus has pushed back the window for when it expects the next-generation single-aisle aircraft to enter service to the latter part of the next decade.

The revelation comes as American Airlines vents its frustration at the slow progress in the development of new-generation narrowbodies as it seeks a replacement for its huge, ageing Boeing MD-80 fleet.

Airbus's chief operating officer customers, John Leahy, says the development of new engine technology is dictating the pace of new narrowbodies from Airbus and Boeing. "The engine-makers say the technology won't be around until 2015, so we're looking at 2017-20 for the next-generation single-aisle," he says.

This is later than Airbus previously indicated, having until now maintained that it expected the next-generation aircraft to be available from the middle of the next decade - a schedule with which its rival Boeing concurred last year.

Airbus's revised view will not be well received by management at American, where chief executive Gerard Arpey says the carrier "continues to be a little discouraged" by the timing of the next-generation narrowbodies". He believes American might be pushed "in the direction of more 737-800s" to replace its fleet of 300 MD-80s, rather than the 737's successor.

The carrier has already accelerated the number of aircraft delivered in 2009 by 10 aircraft, which will result in 23 737-800 deliveries that year. American has no aircraft deliveries planned for 2008.

With engine technology driving the step-change in operating costs that next-generation narrowbodies will require, Leahy says Pratt & Whitney's GTF geared turbofan "has some promise". He adds that improvements will also be achieved through new materials, such as ceramics, which will enable the engines to run at much higher temperatures than today's powerplants.

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