Airbus split on jumbo project

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The Independent Online
TWO senior members of the Airbus consortium, British Aerospace and Daimler-Benz, have broken ranks with their partners and begun talks with Airbus's arch-rival Boeing about sharing in the development of the next generation of jumbo jets.

The new 'super-jumbo' aircraft, which would carry as many as 800 passengers, would not compete directly with any of Airbus's current models, and the consortium members are therefore free to participate in the venture. But Airbus has already begun its own market research into the potential demand for such a plane, working with a number of international airlines likely to be buyers of a Boeing version.

Boeing confirmed its Japanese partners in its current 777 project, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and Fuji Heavy Industries, had also been involved in the talks, but said its primary counterpart in the talks was Deutsche Aerospace, Daimler's commercial airframe subsidiary.

Boeing stressed that the talks were very preliminary, and said a joint feasibility study, likely to take 12 to 18 months to complete, would not lead necessarily to joint production. But because of the cost of developing the aircraft - an estimated dollars 10bn ( pounds 6.5bn) - and the fact that its eventual market will be limited, Boeing said it 'would have to work with a partner to share the development risks'.

Alternatively, Phil Condit, Boeing president, said, the Seattle company was considering a 'stretch' version of its 400-passenger 747-400 jumbo jet, which would add 100 seats without raising some of the technical challenges posed by a much larger plane. A 600-to-800 seat super-jumbo might require special airport facilities, notably changes in terminals and perhaps longer runways.

The new aircraft would be designed primarily for flights to and within Asia, and Japanese airlines would be prime customers, along with global carriers like British Airways, Lufthansa and United Airlines.

With the decline of the military side of their business, many of the world's large aircraft makers are seeking to disperse overhead costs over a range of new products and to limit the financial risks associated with developing them. McDonnell Douglas, the third-ranking airframe manufacturer, for example, lined up Taiwanese investors to share the cost of its MD-12 jumbo jet last year, only to see the dollars 2.5bn deal collapse.

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