Super jumbo's fate hangs in balance

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The Independent Online

Boeing and the four Airbus partners have suspended controversial talks about development of a new super jumbo aircraft because of lack of interest among airlines.

British Airways was the leading supporter of the new-generation 800-seater aircraft, arguing that it would help to ease congestion at London's Heathrow airport.

But, apart from BA and Singapore Airlines, no other potential customers showed much interest. Yesterday, after two-years of talks, the Boeing/Airbus team announced that the project did not yet justify the pounds 10bn development costs.

Although Boeing and Airbus have agreed to meet again in six months to "review market conditions", analysts were not forecasting any sudden change of heart among airlines.

However, British Aerospace, one of the Airbus partners, remained optimistic. "Market studies do not indicate sufficient volumes to justify the launch of the programme today," a BAe spokesman said. "We think perhaps next year the airlines will have a better idea how this aircraft would fit in their view of the future."

The go-ahead for the 800-seater would not only have provided a significant amount of work for BAe, but also offered the possibility of lucrative contracts for UK contractors such as the engine maker Rolls-Royce. But the project would also have soaked up so much capital that it might have hindered development funding for a new generation of supersonic airliners to replace Concorde.

News that the project is being put on hold will leave Boeing dominant in the jumbo jet field, and open the way for more orders for its existing 400-seater 747 airliner. The group is working on a stretched version of its 747 to increase capacity by about 25 per cent.

Last week, BA's chairman, Sir Colin Marshall, said it would buy a stretched 747 in significant numbers if it was available instead of the super jumbo.