Airbus Industrie is closing on a major A340-500 sale to Singapore Airlines (SIA), which threatens to deliver a further blow to Boeing efforts to secure critical launch customers for the rival ultra long haul 777-200X derivative.

According to airline sources, the Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered A340-500 has taken the lead in the race for the Singapore carrier's ultra long haul requirement and a purchase agreement is near to being finalised. Any deal is not expected before mid-May.

The final deciding factor is understood to have come down to aircraft pricing, after Airbus and Boeing were both able to demonstrate that their aircraft could meet SIA's performance criteria. The critical demand was to operate non-stop all-year round on SIA's 16,260km (8,790nm) route between Los Angeles and Singapore, carrying 200 passengers.

In recent months SIA has been playing the two competing manufacturers off against each other in pursuit of price concessions. Airbus and Boeing submitted fresh bids in February in response to SIA's demand for an extra $10 million cut in the cost of each aircraft. Airbus appears to have come closest to meeting this target. The size of the pending order is unclear, but SIA has indicated it would require up to 10 aircraft. The deal will likely take the form of converting outstanding options held by SIA.

The Singapore A340-500 deal would leave Boeing still struggling to launch the 777-200X, the earliest proposed deliveries of which have slipped by 16 months to early 2002.

Boeing, meanwhile, is working to overturn an earlier memorandum of understanding signed by EVA Airways for up to 12 A340-500/ 600s. The Taiwanese carrier is holding back from concluding a contract with Airbus as it evaluates a fresh proposal for a 413,000kg increased gross weight 747-400, which Qantas has ordered, but Boeing is yet to commit to.

Source: Flight International