Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

Singapore Airlines (SIA) is set to become the first operator of the Airbus A3XX, following an announcement on 29 September of an order for 10 aircraft with 15 options.

The "order subject to launch" is worth $8.6 billion, including spares and installed engines, but not the cost of spare engines. Airbus expects to launch the programme formally at the beginning of next year, once it has enough orders.

Airbus Industrie chief executive Noel Forgeard says the aircraft will enter SIA service in March 2006, followed by Emirates the same year, and Air France in 2007. The three airlines, along with ILFC, are committed to 32 aircraft.

The in-service date is "two or three months" later than initially estimated as a result of "additional work we have undertaken to do, to meet very stringent noise requirements that SIA in particular put upon us", says Forgeard. Deliveries of the first SIA batch will be completed by 2011.

SIA deputy chairman and chief executive Cheong Choong Kong says that the airline has yet to finalise its choice of powerplant, but will do so by mid-October. "We are taking this one step at a time," he says. The competing candidate engines are the General Electric/Pratt & Whitney Alliance GP7000, and the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 series.

Cheong says the A3XX decision was driven especially by "the superior operating economy of new technology", but declined to be drawn on why Boeing's 747X Stretch counterproposal lost the competition.

Forgeard claims that the A3XX will offer 15-20% lower operating costs per seat than the Boeing 747-400, about 12% lower fuel burn, 1,850km (1,000nm) more range, and 49% more floor space for 33% more seats. While Cheong says that SIA will offer "service innovations and unprecedented levels of comfort" as a result of the extra cabin space, he adds the airline will be reluctant to sacrifice revenue-earning seats for extravagant "flights of fantasy" - such as in-flight bars, gyms and showers - which Airbus is encouraging airlines to consider installing.

SIA's configuration will give the aircraft a 13,900km range, allowing it to operate the A3XX on high-density routes to London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney.

While the carrier's 15 options can be exercised either as passenger variants or as freighters, Cheong says it has not been decided how many A3XX freighters might be bought. He confirms that SIA will continue to add to its freighter fleet at a rate of about two aircraft every three years, but the carrier could choose to stick with freighter versions of the Boeing 747.

SIA has discussed the possibility of allowing Virgin Atlantic, in which it holds a 49% stake, to acquire the A3XX on the same terms. "We have discussed this with Airbus and there are certain arrangements. The decision is up to Virgin Atlantic," says Cheong.

Source: Flight International