Airbus shies away from flying wing giant

Airbus Industrie, the European aircraft manufacturer, said yesterday that it had looked at developing a giant 800-seat "flying wing" aircraft but abandoned the concept because the technological problems were too daunting.

The consortium was commenting after McDonnell Douglas of the US, which is being taken over by Boeing, said it was preparing to test fly an unmanned model of its own blended wing body (BWB) design. If successful, McDonnell and the US space agency Nasa plan to spend $100m (pounds 61m) building two quarter- size versions of the revolutionary aircraft.

The blended wing aircraft could carry twice as many passengers as the Boeing 747 jumbo jet but is said to use 30 per cent less fuel than the proposed next generation of 550-1,000-seat super jumbos.

An Airbus spokesman said: "It is true that on paper the blended wing design has advantages but it also has significant drawbacks. The problems associated with it are huge. How would you pressurise a vessel of that size, how would passengers board it and how would they be evacuated? There is also the difficulty of controlling the aircraft because of its shape. It would require very sophisticated fly-by-wire technology because the design is aerodynamically unstable."

Airbus also doubted that the flying wing design - which has a span of nearly 90 metres - would fit into any of the world's airports without major modifications to their layout.

The consortium is instead pressing ahead with the development of its own conventionally-designed super jumbo, the A3XX, which would seat 555- 650 passengers and cost at least $8bn to develop.

Until this week Boeing was also developing its own super jumbo, the 550 seat 747-600X, but it shelved the project claiming the market was too small.

Boeing yesterday denied that it had abandoned the project to concentrate instead on the McDonnell Douglas design. A spokesman repeated that the decision had been taken because there was insufficient market demand to justify the $7bn development costs.

Although Airbus has rejected the design, one of its partners, Aerospatiale of France, has spent four years developing a single wing aircraft capable of seating up to 1,000 passengers on two decks. To make up for the lack of windows, cameras on the wing would send back pictures of the outside to be displayed on giant screens.

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