Airbus calls for Boeing 747-8 evacuation test

By Dow Jones Newswires
Posted Feb. 16 at 10:33 a.m.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. should be obliged by U.S. civil aviation authorities to conduct an emergency evacuation test of its new 747-8 Intercontinental, a senior Airbus executive said Wednesday.

The 747-8, a stretched version of the 747-400, was rolled out over the weekend at Boeing’s plant outside Seattle. It will carry 467 passengers, 51 more than the current version of the jumbo jet, offering airlines a lower cost-per-seat mile.

Chief Operating Officer for customers at Airbus John Leahy told a luncheon meeting of aerospace journalists that Boeing wasn’t obliged to carry out an evacuation test of the 747-400 as it had been “grandfathered,” meaning that tests on the earlier 747 versions were deemed sufficient. Chicago-based Boeing now was seeking a similar waiver for a test on the 747-8, he said, adding: “I’m sorry, that’s wrong.”

Airbus has successfully carried out emergency evacuation tests on its flagship A380 superjumbo, managing to evacuate 873 passengers from the double-deck aircraft in 78 seconds as part of its certification process before the plane went into service in 2007.

“An aircraft in that category (of the 747-8) should have to have an evacuation test,” he said, acknowledging that the decision to proceed with one isn’t up to Boeing but to the certification authorities. “I am going to be taking that aircraft one day,” he said. “I want to be sure that you can get out of it in an emergency.”

Boeing officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

Leahy, effectively the company’s top salesman, also said he expected Airbus to book “a few hundred” orders by the time of the Paris Air Show in June for a re-engined version of its fast-selling A320 medium-range jet that was planned to enter into service in 2016.

Airbus is a division of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. NV.

The Airbus executive said he hoped to finalize soon a $1.5 billion order for four A380s from Japan’s Skymark Airlines. Skymark signed a memorandum of understanding for the order in November, and will become the first Japanese airline to order the aircraft.

Airbus is ramping up the production rate of its wide-bodied A330 aircraft to 10 a month by the second quarter of 2013 from nine at present, and Leahy said the company still was mulling a decision to increase production of the A320 family of jets to 42 or 44 a month from 36 now to reduce long delivery delays. This will depend on the ability of the supply chain to ramp up production as well as Airbus’s own resources, he said, and the company is taking a very “conservative” approach.

Leahy accused Boeing of “procrastination” in not being able to decide on whether to develop a re-engined version of its 737, which competes head-on with the A320, or to come up with an all-new aircraft.

He said there was significant potential for sales of A380s to low-cost airlines with long-range operations. Most A380 operators so far were operating their jets with around 540 seats but Air Austral, which flies between Paris and the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, packs in 840 seats. By adding more seats, he said, airlines’ operating cost per seat-mile “goes through the floor.”

Leahy said Airbus wasn’t worried by competition for the A320 from the C-Series, a single-aisle, medium-range jet being developed by Canada’s Bombardier Inc. now that the decision to launch the more fuel-efficient re-engined A320 has been taken.

He predicted that, if orders for the C-Series eventually dried up, Bombardier would drop the program.

However, that wouldn’t be the case with another future competitor, the C919 being developed by China’s Commercial Aircraft Corp. Even if that program was a commercial flop, he said, the Chinese probably would carry on losing money for 10 to 15 years simply to establish themselves to penetrate the market.

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