The future awaits the `superjumbo'

IS that superjumbo airliner in your future a Boeing, an Airbus -

or both?

For the past two years, Boeing, the top US airliner constructor and world industry leader, and Airbus, the European civil aeronautics consortium, have ostensibly been working together to develop the next generation of jumbos expected to carry up to 550 passengers. With development alone costing up to $8 billion and each plane expected to sell for up to $250 million, the idea was to share the cost.

But now the French are encouraging their German, British, and Spanish Airbus consortium partners to step up plans for developing their own double-decker superjumbo. Officials at France's Aerospatiale say they suspect Boeing's plans to develop a larger version of its new 747-400 jumbo could be an attempt to sidestep their joint project. Boeing says it plans to design a new wing for the newest version of its jumbo - a project the French believe could raise the plane's capacity to superjumbo status.

Aerospatiale expects airlines will need up to 500 superjumbos in the first decade or so of the next century.

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