Airbus Industrie hopes to conclude its first risk-sharing agreement on the 500- to 800-seat A3XX later this month, with all four South Korean aerospace manufacturers taking a share of development and manufacture of the aircraft.

The consortium's large-aircraft division senior vice-president, Jurgen Thomas, says that a deal including Daewoo, Hyundai, Korean Air and Samsung Industries would give the combined enterprise "up to 10%" of the programme. If it goes through, this would advance the business case for launching the A3XX.

Efforts continue to tie up further risk-sharing agreements for the 40% of the programme being made available to non-consortium partners, and Thomas says that talks on a stake of up to 15% of the programme with a US manufacturer (thought to be either Northrop Grumman or Lockheed Martin), are also at an "advanced stage". Saab Aircraft is expected to take a stake as well, bringing closer its involvement with the consortium, along with existing Airbus contributors such as Belairbus and Alenia. Bombardier has also been involved in talks.

Thomas expects an agreement with the Pratt &Whitney/ General Electric Engine Alliance, to offer the GP7000, soon. "We're confident we will have an MoU [memorandum of understanding] with them in January," he says. Meanwhile projections for the cost of developing the A3XX have risen to a maximum of $10 billion, says Thomas - a significant increase on the original figure of $8 billion.

A meeting of 17 interested airlines on 5-6 December met with "very positive responses" to the planned design. "We're listening to them very carefully. They all like the concept," says the consortium. Proposals have already been made to three "key, elite, airlines" (which Thomas declines to name), subject to a launch commitment.

The initial 555-seat A3XX-100 has been priced at $198 million, while the longer-range A3XX-100R will be offered at $201.5 million and the stretched, 656-seat, A3XX-200 at $223 million. Freighter and Combi versions will also be offered, "-but we haven't priced them yet", says Thomas. A launch by the end of 1998 is planned, "subject to a robust customer base", says Thomas.

While several airlines are asking for service entry of the A3XX before 2003, Thomas, who admits that the timetable is "very ambitious", is adamant that the date will not be moved, to ensure that technology programmes supporting the aircraft are fully matured. "Airlines expect a better than 99% reliability at service entry," he says. "Nobody wants to pay for 600 rooms in a hotel if the aircraft goes out of service".

Source: Flight International