Andrew Doyle/LONDON

Swissair is evaluating closely the proposed McDonnell Douglas (MDC) MD-XX and Airbus A340-500/600 developments, as it approaches a decision on a new medium-/high-capacity, long-range type to replace its five Boeing 747-300s. The evaluation is being carried out jointly with Belgium's Sabena - 49.5%-owned by the Swiss carrier. Sabena is looking to replace two 747-300s.

Although no firm decision has yet been taken, Swissair plans to phase out its 747s "after 2000", according to Peter Gysel, head of the airline's fleet-development department. An order decision could come "late this year or early next", he adds.

The MD-XX and A340-600 would both be able to carry about 375 passengers in three classes, over ranges exceeding 13,000km (7,000nm). "A specification is that we will not accept any new product with less range than the MD-11ER currently has," says Gysel. Swissair operates a fleet of 13 MD-11s.

The MD-XX, a stretched, re-winged version of the MD-11 tri-jet, is "-something we're looking at in great detail, as a complement to the MD-11s", says Gysel. MDC has indicated that this derivative could be launched by early 1997.

The A340-500/600 programme, meanwhile, is also gathering momentum, with around 15 potential customers attending the recent second airline-advisory meeting with the manufacturer. The biggest question mark over the stretched, re-winged A340 derivatives remains the lack of a suitable engine, although General Electric is due to present its proposals in October, following the expiry of a six-month exclusive study agreement with Airbus.

"We certainly want to know whether this aircraft has a powerplant," says Gysel. "We don't have that answer yet."

The aircraft would offer cockpit commonality with the A319/A320/A321 narrowbody fleet operated by Swissair.

Another factor is determining the operating economics of the MD-XX and A340-500/600 over shorter ranges. "The big question is: what will be the price of having ultra-long ranges," says Gysel. "You never use the aircraft at the extremes of range all the time."

The 747-500X, is understood to be considered too large for Swissair's requirements, while the 777-200 is too similar in size to the MD-11. As envisaged, the 370-seat 777-300 stretch does not offer the range performance required.

Airbus says that it has dropped plans to develop the A340-400, a simple stretch of the -300, in favour of pushing ahead with the -500/600 versions of the aircraft, which will have enlarged wings and considerably more powerful engines than those on the -400.

Source: Flight International