Given the prohibitive cost of such a programme - anything between dollars 8bn and dollars 12bn ( pounds 5.4bn and pounds 8.2bn) - it would be more surprising if discussions were not taking place between leading airframe manufacturers. What is interesting is that, separately, the four partners in Airbus are examining the potential for just such a super-jumbo among themselves. Boeing's move would seem, then, to be an attempt to drive a wedge through the four-nation European consortium.
The US manufacturer already has a comfortable monopoly in the existing 400-plus-seat jumbo jet market with its 747. Joining forces with BAe and Daimler to develop an even bigger version would enable Boeing to maintain that monopoly, since Airbus would be prevented from launching a direct rival.
There is little doubt that a market will exist early in the next millennium for a 600-seat aircraft as air travel grows and airports and airspace become more congested. Holding preliminary talks about a paper plane still 10 years away from flying and actually committing funds are, however, two different matters.
It is inconceivable that Airbus would permit two of its partners to peel out of formation and join Boeing. Thus it remains likely that both sides will continue their separate programmes and wait to see who blinks first, or that Airbus and Boeing will jointly develop one aircraft.