The pan-European Airbus Industrie consortium has given the industrial go-ahead for the A340-500 and 600, the higher capacity and longer range versions of the four-jet A340 airliner.
With orders and commitments for some 100 aircraft worth $13bn (£8bn), the new A340s are being pitched at a market put at 1,500 long range aircraft with 300-400 seats up to the year 2010.
On 15 December, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to sign a firm order for eight A340-600s, with options for eight more.
Rolls-Royce said the new aircraft means the aero-engine builder stands to make up to $4bn from sales of the Trent 500 turbofan, as selected to power the new models at last June’s Paris air show.
But no decision has been taken on £120m of British launch aid for the A340-500/600. Trade minister John Battle said last month that a decision would be made as soon as possible on British Aerospace’s application. Rolls-Royce won £200m of launch aid for the Trent 500, in what Battle called a ‘unique case’.
Airbus, in which BAe has a 20% stake, said it won 425 orders by the end of November, beating the previous record of 421 set in 1989.