Qantas is deliberating a launch order for the 550-seat Airbus A3XX, forcing it to defer its decision on the selection of a new 300-seat aircraft until later this month, at the earliest.

According to sources, Airbus is understood to have presented the Australian carrier with "a very attractive offer for the A3XX", as part of its pitch for the airline's 300-seat requirement. Unit pricing on the A3XX-100 offer to Qantas is understood to be as low as $170 million, compared to the nominal "sticker" price for the aircraft of $220-$240 million.

Qantas' chief executive James Strong confirms that the airline has a requirement for 10 aircraft larger than the Boeing 747-400, and is discussing an A3XX deal with Airbus.

"Under the proposal being discussed with Airbus, Qantas would be seeking deliveries of up to 10 of the new aircraft progressively from 2006 to 2010 and beyond," he says, adding that "the anticipated seat-mile cost advantage, payload range capability and passenger comfort make the A3XX an appealing option for Qantas."

Qantas sees a need within five years for an ultra-large aircraft to operate its two highest-volume international routes from Australia to London and Los Angeles. The larger aircraft would allow 747-400s to be transferred onto Asian routes, replacing older -200/300s. This would be supplemented by the new 300-seater employed on thinner routes to replace the airline's 767-200/300ERs.

Any firm commitment to the A3XX will not be made until later this year, and the airline says the selection will have no bearing on its other requirements. The A3XX talks have impacted the timing and selection of a new 300-seater.

Following the release of a request for proposals late last year, the company had been due to choose between the Airbus A330/A340 and Boeing 777 in May, but this has slipped and no decision is now expected before the 19 July board meeting.

"The decision has been muddied by the large aircraft," says a source. The Australian carrier had been looking for up to 30 aircraft, comprised of either A330-300s or 777-200ERs for its Asian routes and A340-500/600s or 777-200LRs for ultra-long-haul services (Flight International, 22 December -3 January).

Other influencing factors at play is a strong push by Boeing to interest Qantas in the 413,140kg (910,000lb) increased gross 747-400X as an interim solution available from 2002 to increase range and payload.

• Qantas inaugurated a new future air navigation systems (FANS) air route between Europe and Asia on 24 June. The 3,146km (1,700nm) route, overflying the Tibetan Plateau in Western China and designated L888, will cut up to 50min from scheduled flight times on existing routeings, with an expected average saving of 25-30min.

Source: Flight International