Airbus said yesterday that it would invest just over €1bn (£840m) in the “A320neo” project to improve efficiency and cut harmful emissions and noise.
Until now, Airbus and US rival Boeing, with its 737, had resisted changing winning designs that are the backbone of the global airline business and helped give birth to the low-cost sector.
The new planes, with upward-slanting wingtips, will look almost identical to existing aircraft but have larger and more efficient engines from either US group Pratt & Whitney or CFM International, a joint venture between US conglomerate General Electric and French group Safran.
The long-awaited decision hit back at Canadian group Bombardier, China and Russia, who all aim to challenge Airbus and Boeing for a segment of the global jetliner market, worth $1.7 trillion (£1.09 trillion) over 20 years. It was also a critical move in a war between enginemakers for dominance as the aviation industry climbs out of recession.
The new engines will be offered as an option on A320 and derivative A319 and A321 models.