Airbus will reveal plan for super-jumbo: Aircraft would seat at least 600 people and cost dollars 8bn to develop

AIRBUS will unveil plans next week for its own super-jumbo airliner, which will be built if a deal to build an aircraft jointly with Boeing falls through.

Jean Pierson, chairman, said the four-engine, double-decker aircraft, codenamed A3XX, would seat at least 600 people, compared with fewer than 500 in the biggest Boeing 747. It would cost dollars 8bn ( pounds 5.4bn) to develop and will be designed to challenge the American company in a market sector it has monopolised for 25 years.

The Airbus board decided last week to go ahead with preliminary work on the A3XX. 'We intend to discuss it with selected airlines after the Farnborough airshow in September,' Mr Pierson said. British Airways has already said it wants a super-jumbo for busy routes such as London-New York, arguing that larger aircraft are the only solution to growing airport congestion. Japanese airlines are also believed to be interested.

Airbus and Boeing have been working on a joint aircraft, the Very Large Commercial Transport, but airbus has suspicions that the American company is playing for time, hoping to preserve the 747's monopoly as long as possible. Boeing is working on an enlarged version of the jumbo, the 747X, which could satisfy some airline demand. It would, however, require a newly designed wing, which would make it more expensive than previous upgrades.

A decision on the joint aircraft will be made at the end of next year. 'Our first choice is the VLCT, but if that doesn't happen, we will have to react,' said Charles Masefield, Airbus's commercial director. 'Like Boeing we are double hedging.' He said the market analysts doubted there would be sufficient demand for more than one aircraft.

The A3XX would be larger than the 747X: a stretched version could probably carry 800 passengers. 'Our advantage is that we can leapfrog Boeing,' Mr Pierson said. Smaller versions would be designed to take business from the bigger 747s, while the bottom of the jumbo market would be attacked by enlarged versions of the current top-of-the range A340. But analysts point out that the A340 is being outsold by the new Boeing 777, and that Airbus would have a tough fight.

Mr Masefield said the aircraft would have to be at least 20 per cent cheaper to run than the 747- 400. 'It is no good spending dollars 8bn for a 10 per cent cost reduction,' he said.

Mr Pierson said the super- jumbo is much more likely to go ahead than the other aircraft of the future, the so-called Son of Concorde. 'As long as a supersonic aircraft is not authorised to fly over land, everybody's dreaming,' he said. 'I am not spending one dollar on this plane.'

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