Airbus Readies ‘Gone Fishing’ Sign With Sales Targets Close

Airbus SAS came within reach of its annual order target after adding almost $15 billion in sales on the fourth day of the Paris Air Show, prompting its sales chief to quip that he might take the rest of the year off.

The European manufacturer pulled in deals worth almost $70 billion at the annual trade fair, including firm orders for 241 planes and agreements for 225 more, it said today. Airbus’s target for the whole of 2013 is 800 orders, a goal the company said it’s confident of exceeding, having booked 758.

“I’m going fishing,” John Leahy, head of sales and chief operating officer, said at a press conference with Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier. “People at Boeing are actually suggesting it.”

Airbus won 69 orders and commitments for its new A350 wide-body, which flew for the first time last week and will make a fly-by appearance at the event tomorrow. Boeing Co. introduced a stretched version of its 787 Dreamliner to take on the A350, signing up buyers including Singapore Airlines Ltd. and leasing company Air Lease Corp.

By volume, the A320 single-aisle family pulled in the most business in Paris, with 371 orders and commitments. Bregier said suppliers are still struggling to meet rising output.

The company has sold most of the remaining classic A320s it plans to make as it prepares to put a more fuel-efficient version, the Neo, into service in 2015.

Japan Target

Airbus has an order backlog of more than 2,400 A320neos, which dominated the air show two years ago and prompted Boeing to also equip its 737 model with new engines. Airbus claims a lead of 61 percent in the re-engined single-aisle market.

Leahy said he’s still “hammering away” at winning business in Japan, a market dominated by Boeing. Toulouse, France-based Airbus is confident it will eventually also sell its A380 superjumbos to the largest Japanese carriers, he said.

Bregier said the second flight of the A350 prototype went smoothly yesterday, as the crew took the airliner close to its maximum altitude and speed limits. Even with thousands of test-flight hours remaining in the next year, the CEO said he’s confident the plane will deliver on its efficiency promises.

Airbus is focused on marketing the larger A350-900 and -1000 versions, and is “looking at” the first-flight plan of the smallest -800 variant, Leahy said. There are no intentions to drop the model outright, he said and Airbus will honor contracts for airlines that want the plane.

Some customers, including Qatar Airways Ltd., have already dropped the smallest A350 variant in favor of larger types, leaving Airbus with just 89 sales on the model, compared with more than 600 for the program overall.

Leahy said the planemaker is encouraging remaining buyers to upgrade by offering “attractive” terms. Among airlines with A350-800 on order are USAirways Group Inc., Aeroflot Russian Airlines, Asiana Airlines Inc. and Hawaiian Airlines Inc.

The June 14 maiden flight of the A350 “gives us a lot of credibility” and should help spur sales, Leahy said.

(Updates with comment on A350-800 from 10th paragraph. For more on the Paris Air Show, see SHOW.)
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