Airbus signs partners to launch super jumbo

Airbus Industrie, the European aircraft manufacturer, yesterday moved a step closer to launching its planned 650-seat super jumbo by signing up Dutch and Belgian risk-sharing partners on the project.

The four-nation consortium aims to find risk-sharing partners for 40 per cent of the aircraft, codenamed the A3XX, which is expected to cost at least $8bn to develop and should enter service in 2003.

The agreements signed yesterday are with Belairbus of Belgium and Fokker Aviation of the Netherlands, which was bought from the collapsed parent company by the Stork group last July. The two partners will get business worth about $2bn on the A3XX programme.

Alenia of Italy is already a risk-sharing partner on the A3XX and other backers are being sought in Korea and elsewhere in the Pacific Rim.

Earlier this week the four Airbus partners - British Aerospace, Aerospatiale of France, Daimler-Benz of Germany and Casa of Spain - signed a binding memorandum of understanding to convert the consortium into a limited company in 1999.

The partners have made the A3XX programme conditional on the restructuring of Airbus into a fully commercial company. Airbus expects to get authorisation to offer the A3XX to customers towards the end of next year with the formal go-ahead at the end of 1999.

Boeing of the US plans to launch its own super jumbo, the 747-600, at a cost of $5bn-$7bn but there are doubts whether the market will sustain two rival aircraft of that size.

The A3XX would initially be a double-decker aircraft with a range of 8,500 miles, seating 555 passengers in three classes. But a stretched version is also planned, seating 656 passengers in three-class and 990 in single- class configurations.

Boeing's stretched jumbo will seat 550 passengers in three classes, compared with a capacity of just over 400 in the 747.