Airbus president Jean Pierson has warned that the A3XX 550-650 seat airliner should not be launched until the consortium is satisfied that the programme can meet its promised target of delivering significantly better economics than those offered by the Boeing 747.

Speaking at his last official press conference before he stands down at the end of March, Pierson said that he decided to delay the programme in late 1997 as Airbus "-had not achieved the engineering target" of producing a step change in operating economics.

Airbus has set a baseline requirement for the A3XX of cost savings of 15-20% over the current 747-400. Pierson says that areas which need to be addressed include aerodynamics, economics and aeroelasticity. The delay was instigated when it became clear that Airbus would not be in a position to launch the aircraft by the end of 1998.

Pierson believes that the consortium will have resolved the outstanding technical issues by the end of this year, but he warns that if Airbus is still not satisfied that the goals can be achieved, then he would recommend a further delay.

Another issue has been a lack of engineering resources caused by the programme's clash with the build-up to the launch of the A340-500/600 at the end of last year. The A340 programme should have been cleared a year earlier, but was effectively delayed by the collapse of an agreement with General Electric to provide an engine.

Phillipe Jarry, vice-president market development in the Large Aircraft division of Airbus, says that a preliminary design freeze was made "pretty much on schedule" on 22 January, and that low speed windtunnel testing is about to begin which will enable the wing's high lift systems to be defined. A final configuration freeze is scheduled for the end of 1998.

Partners and suppliers are bidding for the various industrial production packages. That should be finalised before the end of the year, along with issues of production method and assembly line location. Jarry says that with these elements achieved, then firm offers will be able to be made to airlines during the first half of 1999, followed by a launch in the third quarter. Service entry is due in late 2004.

Pierson denies suggestions that there are insufficient partners for the $8-9 billion programme, and is adamant that existing agreements cover the programme by "..more than 100%". Partners signed include Alenia, Belairbus, Finavitec, Fokker (Stork) and Saab.Six undisclosed European companies have also joined, says Jarry.

Meanwhile, Airbus has firmed up the baseline definition of a new short fuselage version of the aircraft, dubbed the A3XX-50, which seats 480 passengers - some 75 fewer than the standard A3XX-100 - and features lower weights and engine thrust, as well as a 5.1m reduction in fuselage length through the removal of fuselage sections fore and aft of the wing.

The new model has been conceived to plug the gap between the 378-seat A340-600 and the 555-seat A3XX-100, and as a rival to any stretched Boeing 747.

Source: Flight International