Charles Masefield, Airbus's commercial director, said in Toulouse last week that an ultra-long-range version of its popular A340 will be available 'as soon as we get orders, which won't be long'.
He said that no technical leap was needed, just the replacement of some seats with extra fuel capacity: the four-engined A340-200 already has the longest range of any commercial airliner - 7,350 nautical miles. 'We only have to find another 1,000 miles,' Mr Masefield said.
The aircraft would be able to fly non-stop from London to Sydney in 19 hours, as well as between other cities divided by a hemisphere, such as Los Angeles and Hong Kong or Toronto and Delhi. Mr Masefield said that he expected most of the demand to come from the Asian airlines.
A Boeing 747-400 has flown non-stop between the UK and Sydney as a test, but there are no commercial flights of this length. Mr Masefield said airlines did not want a plane as big as the jumbo - which can carry up to 450 passengers - because it would be more difficult to fill without the extra loading point in Singapore or Bangkok.
'Airlines are saying 'don't give us more than 230 seats, but do give us non-stop,' ' he said.
The ultra-long-range airplanes of the future will still be three class, Mr Masefield believes. But first class will have proper beds, business class will be the same standard as today's first, while economy will be as uncomfortable as ever.
Airbus believes a very long- range plane is the best way to steal a march on its arch rival, Boeing. This week it will announce another coup - its proposed A3XX 'super jumbo'.Reuse content