Since the creation of a Large Aircraft Division in April 1996, Airbus Industrie's plans to build the world's largest airliner have made significant progress.
Representatives of airlines from around the world are working with Airbus Industrie with the aim of launching the new aircraft -- designated the A3XX -- in time to start passenger service in the year 2005. These carriers include United Airlines, Japan Air Lines, Federal Express, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Air France, All Nippon Airways, and Lufthansa.
The A3XX will constitute a new family of aircraft that will be bigger and better in all aspects. It will offer improved passenger comfort, while operating costs should be 15-20 percent lower than those of today's 747.
In its first version, the A3XX will seat some 550 passengers in three classes, and will have a long-haul range of 14,200-16,200 km. (7,650-8,750 naut. mi.). This basic version is designated the A3XX-100.
Being a brand new design, the A3XX will have growth potential for increased capacity and increased range. A 650-seat stretched derivative, designated the A3XX-200 also has been defined, as have dedicated freighter and combi versions, and short-haul and smaller derivatives.
With the widest and most spacious cabin in the sky, the A3XX will offer a versatile fuselage cross-section that allows airlines to implement all predictable cabin arrangements on three decks.
The A3XX will be the first civil air transport with four aisles - two on the main-deck and two on the top-deck - and a double staircase, allowing a good flow during boarding and disembarking. For the first time, airlines will be able to offer true widebody comfort on both decks and still achieve an airport turnaround time of 90 minutes or less - better than that of any existing large airliner today.
Being quieter than the largest airliner flying today, the A3XX will be a good neighbor too. Four engines -- the optimum number for long-haul aircraft -- will power the A3XX. They will each be in the 67,000-80,000 lb. thrust class. Two groups of engine manufacturers are working to provide new engines -- the Engine Alliance (which brings together General Electric Aircraft Engines and Pratt & Whitney), and Rolls-Royce have both signed MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) for engines to be offered on the A3XX.
The MoU with the Engine Alliance for its GP7200 engine series was signed with Airbus Industrie in May, 1998. Developed to meet the needs of the A3XX family, the GP7200 covers the 67,700-80,000 lb., thrust range.
In October 1996, Airbus Industrie signed an agreement with Rolls-Royce for the Trent 900 engines on A3XX. The Trent 900 will have ratings of up to 80,000 lb. thrust.
The two MoUs allow Airbus Industrie to offer a choice of engines on the A3XX and the program timing gives engine companies the time to incorporate significant improvements in efficiency over today's engines.
The A3XX is the best way of meeting the growth in air travel, which is expected to almost triple during the next 20 years. It represents the most efficient solution to transporting more people without building new airports. Airbus Industrie forecasts a market for approximately 1,330 airliners of more than 400 seats, worth some $300 billion, through the year 2017. The A3XX is designed to meet the needs of the main markets identified, which link major hubs within Asia, across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and between Asia and Europe.
Airbus Industrie has made extensive efforts to ensure the A3XX will be able to use existing airport runways, taxiways and parking areas -- with minimum changes that can readily be introduced as part of the normal evolution. With a wingspan of 79.8 meters (261.7 ft.) and a maximum length of 78.9 meters (258.7 ft.), the A3XX will fit within the "80 meter X 80 meter box" adopted as the next standard by the world's major airports.
For the A3XX program to be successful, it must provide a reasonable return on its development costs. Money will be raised from Airbus Industrie's partners, through repayable government loans and via equity participation from other aerospace companies around the world. So far, Memoranda of Understanding have been signed between Airbus Industrie and five European aerospace companies: Fokker of The Netherlands, Belgium's Belairbus, Alenia of Italy, Sweden's Saab and Finavitec of Finland. These agreements cover the identification of specific areas of participation in the A3XX program and engineers from the companies have already joined the team in Toulouse.
To initiate the multi-year certification process, Airbus Industrie applied for European Joint Airworthiness Authorities (JAA) type certificate in January, 1998. This enabled Airbus Industrie and civil aviation authorities to begin an early dialog on what will be required for certification of such a large aircraft. A similar step with the U.S. was taken in August, 1998 when Airbus Industrie applied with the Federal Aviation Administration for an A3XX type certificate.
In creating the A3XX, Airbus Industrie ensures itself a place in the valuable top-end of the market, while also offering airlines an alternative to the monopoly that has existed so far. The A3XX will be a close relative of the Airbus Industrie aircraft family. Following the philosophy successfully applied by the consortium on its other products, the A3XX will offer a high degree of operational commonality -- in particular in cockpit utilization.
The challenge now facing Airbus Industrie is to make the A3XX a reality and, with a proven track-record of designing and building airliners on-time and within budget, it is one that the consortium is making steady progress towards achieving.
For updated information on the program status, see the latestA3XX Briefing issued by Airbus Industrie.