Will the new Airbus really be as good as it claims to be? Or will Qantas and Singapore Airlines be left with a fleet of blue elephants?

The junket to Toulouse must be the best gig for media this year, and I know we are only three weeks into January.

Tansy Harcourt from The Australian Financial Review, Steve Creedy from The Australian are there, along with their counterparts around the world so see the world’s biggest and most expensive, and as it turns out, the most overweight, airliner produced.

The Airbus 380 behemoth, as this story from Reuters, via the ABC News website explains.

Despite the sanguine approach of Airbus officials, five tonnes is five tonnes and if hangs around, will use up more fuel. Airbus will have to get that out of the new plane before it comes into service next year if it is to meet all those claims for being able to fly further than the Boeing 747 while carrying more people.

In fact it is also more expensive than previously thought, although there are claims the huge budget will take account of the higher costs. The cost is put around $US260 million each for what resembles an up market live sheep carrier!

Qantas has taken options, as has its latest rival, Singapore Airlines.

According to Tansy’s story in the AFR, the head of Singapore Airlines, Chew Choong Seng said at the launch one of the reasons Singapore wanted the plane because it could it would suitable (on paper anyway) for flights between Australia and the US, Singapore London and San Francisco and Hong Kong in one leg.

That’s a bit like a red flag to Qantas, who’s CEO, Geoff Dixon was also in Toulouse for the launch. Geoff, according to Tansy, said Qantas’s version would seat 500 passengers and be used on the US routes.

With Geoff and Singapore jousting in the wilds of Toulouse, Qantas and Singapore are continuing their letter writing battles through the Letters Page of The Australian Financial Review.

That letter from the Singapore Airlines executive responsible for Australia, Paul Tan, was published in Monday’s AFR and has produced a predictable response from Qantas.

No, not it wasn’t from the designated letter writers, Geoff Dixon or from his deputy, John Borghetti, the executive general manager in charge of difficult tasks.

This time the letter is from a lesser executive, David Hawes, Head of Government and international relations for Qantas.

In fact Dave is the company’s head corridor walker in Canberra where he’s been known to keep the entire Transport Department and Deputy Prime Minister’s office enthralled with his legendary lobbying kills.

So far he, with chairman, “Dame” Margaret Jackson, have done well keeping Singapore out of the country and off the Pacific Routes.

Dave, the “Dame” and Geoffie managed to convince the government to exclude air services from the Free Trade Agreement between Australian and Singapore, a rort if ever there was one.

Now Dave replies to Singapore’s Paul Tan by accusing the latter of “doing little to promote understanding of a critical factor bearing on opportunities for airlines to compete on an equal footing”. (Tan’s letter attacked Qantas for its anti-competitive stance in keeping Singapore off the Pacific route when Qantas can fly easily to more places from Singapore than Singapore can).

Dave says Paul’s letter ignores “the reality that opportunities for airlines to compete in global markets are governed not only by air service arrangements between bilateral partners, as in the case of those between Singapore and Australia, but also by their respective agreements with third countries.”

This Dave said allowed Singapore, a hub type of airline, to fly to more third countries than an ‘end of service’ airline like Qantas.

That’s all well and good but obviously clouds the issue. Dave doesn’t mention the ease with which Qantas set up and was allowed to fly from Singapore to a number of third countries from Singapore with Jetstar Asia.

Having the Singapore Government as a major shareholder no doubt helped, a point conveniently missed or ignored by Dave in his typically lobbyist letter.

What’s to stop Qantas and the Federal Government negotiating to try and get more access for the airline with third countries, such as France (used as an example by Dave)?

Could it be that Qantas’s obduracy on competition issues and Geoff Dixon’s noise on these issues in public have titled the playing field away from Qantas?

To be in favour of competition you have to practice what you believe, not merely say one thing and use people like Dave to say something else to Canberra and letters to the media.