* Sees 4-5 years of year-on-year profit growth
* Determined to prevent drop in narrowbody output
* No further increases in output until neo hits stride
* Airbus sold almost 200 aircraft in November
* Hint on future developments without European loans
(Adds quotes, details)
By Tim Hepher and Cyril Altmeyer
LONDON, Dec 3 The chief executive of Airbus
moved to head off any concerns about a dip in profits or
political interference at the European planemaker as France and
Germany edged towards a shake-up of parent group EADS on Monday.
In an interview, Fabrice Bregier told Reuters he was
confident that Airbus would ride out what some analysts
fear could be a bumpy transitional period without either
sacrificing record production or seeing its profits sag.
But he conceded Airbus was set to drop behind U.S. rival
Boeing in the traditional race for orders and deliveries this
year, even after grabbing almost 200 new orders in November.
"We are not in a hurry," Bregier said. "We will achieve more
than our target of 650 orders this year."
He said development of the A350, the Toulouse-based
company's next major project, was on track after a delay of up
to six months announced earlier this year. Airbus had also come
to grips with problems of wing cracks on the A380 superjumbo.
Airbus expects to meet a target of delivering 30 superjumbos
in 2012 as it catches up from a slowdown caused by the flaws in
several components on each wing. Next year, deliveries could
slip below 30 before exceeding that level in 2014, Bregier said.
Airbus is sticking to a breakeven goal for the A380 by 2015.
Bregier, a former defence executive who controlled Airbus
operations for six years before becoming head of the largest
EADS division in June, pledged to keep a grip on efforts to
deliver the company's seven-year backlog of jets as CEO.
"If we do that, we will grow year on year," he said. "We
have the potential to increase the profitability year on year
for the next 4-5 years."
Some analysts have expressed concerns that a projected slew
of loss-making early deliveries of A350s sold at launch prices
and a potential slowdown in demand for current-generation planes
could dent profits at mid-decade.
Buoyed by demand from Asia, Airbus has started producing its
A320 narrowbody planes at a record 42 a month, but has found the
ramp-up was "painful" for some of its suppliers, Bregier said.
It is anxious to prevent a dip in deliveries as airlines shy
away from the current model to focus on the revamped A320neo, a
fuel-saving model due to enter service from 2015.
Bregier said Airbus would not aim for higher production
until the A320neo was at full speed from around 2018. Airbus has
a "few hundred" current-type A320s left to sell in 2015/16.
The company has yet to make a decision to increase planned
production for the A330, which it had said was threatened by
China's refusal to confirm orders in protest at European Union
airline emissions rules. The EU agreed to freeze the scheme last
Bregier was speaking as governments fine-tuned a deal to
alter the corporate structure of Europe's largest aerospace
group, bringing in Germany as a direct shareholder in EADS for
the first time, while reducing industrial proxy shareholdings.
"I am very optimistic that Airbus will continue to be
supported and that we will have free hands to do what is
necessary for Airbus's success," Bregier told Reuters.
Airbus has become steadily more integrated after starting
out more than 40 years ago as a consortium of national entities.
But there have been signs of renewed tensions over jobs.
Industrial and diplomatic sources say Germany is withholding
part of a 1.2 billion-euro loan, designed to help Airbus
build the carbon-composite A350, in a row over the allocation of
Germany is expected to take a 12-percent stake in EADS,
matching France on the basis of voting rights.
Declining to confirm that would be the case, Bregier said:
"This is subject to confirmation, but with 12 percent as a
shareholder, you can influence 12 percent of the company."
He added he was confident the loan dispute with Germany
would be resolved and signalled a possible shift in rhetoric in
a dispute with the United States over whether such aid is legal.
Global trade rulings against aid for both Airbus and Boeing
have failed to resolve the world's largest trade dispute.
Asked whether Airbus could do without such support for its
next generation of aircraft, Bregier said: "Yes - if there is a
level playing field, which is very difficult to obtain, because
the WTO found heavy subsidies going to Boeing.
"We have China, Russia, if everybody plays the game, my
answer would be yes, definitely."
Both companies have called for a level playing field
throughout the marathon dispute, but Bregier appeared to open
new ground by openly saying this might mean zero support.
Boeing however dismissed the comments.
"The World Trade Organisation has already ruled that all
government launch aid to Airbus, totalling billions of euros,
was illegal," a spokesman said. "Only when this illegal practice
stops, can we discuss a level playing field."
Airbus sold 646 planes between January and November, Bregier
told Reuters, just shy of a target of 650 for the year.
After adjusting for cancellations, net orders stood at 585
and deliveries at 516 in the period, leaving Airbus behind its
U.S. rival for the first time in several years.
Boeing, catching up on last year's record A320neo orders
with its new 737 MAX, has sold more than 1,150 aircraft.
(Additional reporting by Jane Barrett and Sarah Edmonds;
Editing by David Holmes, Helen Massy-Beresford and Alastair