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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 13:10 GMT
Virgin places 'superjumbo' order
Airbus' A3XX in flight
Virgin is buying six A3XXs, and taking options on six more
Virgin Atlantic Airways has ordered six A3XX "superjumbos" from European consortium Airbus in a deal valued at $3.8bn.

The purchase is regarded as crucial because it gives the manufacturer orders for 50 of the planes - the level it said it needed to justify starting commercial production of what will be the world's largest civilian airliner.

A3XX cabin
A3XX: New standards of comfort?

Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard said in a statement the group was now in a "strong position" to launch production.

Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson said he was "incredibly excited" about the planes, which would help the airline "create a new flying experience for... passengers".

Substantial discount

He said the planes - due for delivery in 2006 - would fly routes between London and the US and the Far East.

Virgin gave only a headline value for the deal, which it said also included options on six more A3XXs.

Analysts said it was also likely to include some spare parts and after-sales service.
Big Bird Buyers
12 for Qantas
10 for Singapore Airlines
10 for Air France
Seven for Emirates
Six for Virgin Atlantic
Five for ILFC
50 in total

The six planes alone would be worth about $1.4bn at catalogue prices but Virgin was thought to be receiving a substantial discount on both planes and engines. Industry sources had said the airline would probably be paying about $160m a plane.

Virgin's aircraft are expected to come equipped with engines from Rolls-Royce, rather than from US rivals General Electric or Pratt & Whitney which will also make A3XX engines.

Plane swaps

Singapore Airlines, which owns 49% of Virgin, had ordered 10 A3XXs with Rolls Royce engines in September.

The Virgin engine order was probably part of the Singapore deal, one industry executive said.

Over time, Singapore and Virgin will want to swap planes and that requires a homogenous fleet, he said.

With the Virgin deal, all the six customers that Airbus said had expressed interest in the A3XX in June will have signed for the plane.

Ahead of the Virgin deal, Qantas Airways had ordered 12 planes, Air France and Singapore Airlines 10 each, Dubai-owned Emirates seven and ILFC, the leasing unit of American International Group had ordered five.

Strong feelings

The $10.7bn A3XX development project has aroused strong feelings in the aviation industry, with the world's two largest manufacturers holding radically different views of the future.

Airbus has argued that the 555-seat jet will take passenger air travel into a new generation of efficiency, comfort and good service.

Its great rival, The Boeing Company of the US, has maintained that demand for very large planes will be weak and concentrated on building smaller aircraft, which it says will give carriers greater flexibility and efficiency.

Virgin - acknowledged as an innovator - already has plans to offer double beds, meeting rooms and massage parlours on some flights.

Industry sources said the airline was now considering facilities such as childrens' play areas, gyms, showers and games arcades for the three-deck A3XX.

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