British Airways says that it will buy the Airbus A3XX, "-if it is commercially viable", and has criticised Boeing for dropping its plan to develop the 747-500X/ 600X models.
BA chief operating officer Dr Alistair Cumming says: "We frankly commend Airbus for their bravery in taking this step." He adds:" If we can make money, and it meets our timescale, we'll commit to that product [the A3XX]."
Speaking at the Speednews aviation-industry suppliers' conference in Los Angeles, California, Cumming said that BA was originally "-ready to be launch customer" for the stretched, re- winged 747-600X. The latter stages of the Boeing development plan for the 747-X showed increasing inferiority to the proposed cost structure of an all-new, purpose-built aircraft, however.
"That's what started to worry us," he adds. "The 747-X project suddenly stopped. It could be significant that this about-face occurred shortly after Boeing and McDonnell Douglas announced their planned merger. It would appear that this merger was, above all, driven by the realities of the aerospace defence industry. "
BA is committed to the need for larger aircraft than the 747 because of the "approaching saturation point of airports and the infrastructure". "Only one thing can help the industry to grow in this context, and that is larger aeroplanes. The industry cries out for a more efficient use of flights and slots by the provision of larger aircraft." He adds that the prospect of a simpler, stretched 747 is "-better than nothing".
Boeing continues to defend its decision. Director of product marketing Joe Ozimek says: "It wasn't that we did not have anyone interested in the 747-500 and -600, we just didn't have enough. Twenty-plus customers were talking to us about more and more things they wanted us to do on the aircraft and the cost got higher. We forecast 500 units last year and, this year, we were having a hard time to hold on to even those units. So the cost was going up and the market was going down, but the problem was getting the market to commit."
Airbus, meanwhile, continues to re-affirm its commitment to the A3XX programme - although the Airbus partners have yet to get formal proposals from Toulouse. Philippe Jarry, vice-president of market development, says that preliminary design freeze is expected at the end of 1997, with a possible launch by "the end of 1998 at the latest". Major assembly would begin in 2001, with first flight due in mid-2002 and service entry by the third quarter of 2003.