PARIS Airbus expects to bag more sales in 2011 than last year due to a revamped airplane model and should see a similar proportion of cancellations as in 2010, Chief Operations Officer Fabrice Bregier said on Wednesday.
The man tipped to be next chief executive of the world's largest planemaker also told journalists that Airbus had a "reasonable chance" of delivering its next airliner, the A350, on time despite a string of delays on other recent models.
There has been speculation that Europe's answer to the Boeing (BA.N) 787 Dreamliner could be pushed back by six months in the case of some versions, but Airbus is sticking to a first delivery target of late 2013 for the carbon-composite jet.
"When you look at the history of new plane developments and you are sitting on the outside, it is easier to bet on a delay than on delivery on time," Bregier told reporters.
"We think we have a reasonable chance of proving these forecasts (of delays) wrong," he said at a news briefing.
He expected keenly awaited details on the largest type of A350 to be announced within weeks. An industry source familiar with the development told Reuters that Airbus may yet have to announce a six-month delay.
Speaking three weeks ahead of the Paris Air Show, the biggest event in the $80 billion aircraft industry's calendar, Bregier said Airbus sales would be boosted by a planned revamp of the best-selling A320 passenger jet, known as the A320neo.
The revamped aircraft promises 15 percent fuel savings thanks to new engines, with first delivery due in October 2015.
Airbus will phase in the new model gradually, and it will be ready to produce 40 A320neos a month by 2018, Bregier added.
Bregier said Airbus expected aircraft cancellations to remain at around 10-15 percent of new orders in 2011, and that Airbus would sell more than it did last year due to the A320neo.
Sales chief John Leahy last week set the stage for two major deals at the airshow, including one provisionally announced.
A380 OUTPUT ON PLAN
Airbus EAD.PA reported 70 cancellations in 2010, or 11 percent of its gross order intake of 644 new planes in 2010.
The 2010 net order tally after cancellations was 544 planes.
Parent EADS EAD.PA has predicted 520-530 Airbus deliveries in 2011 and gross orders remaining ahead of that delivery rate.
Bregier, who is French, serves as number two to Airbus's German CEO Tom Enders, who is soon expected to step up to become CEO of EADS, a job he once previously shared under a complex Franco-German power-sharing structure that was later simplified.
If the changes go according to expectations, Enders should succeed EADS chief executive Louis Gallois in 2012, but there are uncertainties over the plans of the two private industrial core shareholders in EADS, Lagardere (LAGA.PA) and Daimler DAIG.DE.
They own a combined 30 percent, while the French government owns 15 percent and control is locked up by a shareholder pact.
Bregier said the A380 superjumbo, Europe's flagship airliner once plagued by high-profile delays, had been produced in line with the revised schedule for the past 18 months and that Airbus was on course to deliver 25 of them this year, as promised.
He reiterated that the world's largest airliner should become profitable for Airbus in 2014 or 2015.
Airbus is confident of being able to hike A380 production in 2012, but exactly by how much is uncertain because of lingering questions over the supply of Rolls-Royce (RR.L) engines like the one that blew out on a Qantas (QAN.AX) A380 plane last year.
One of the UK engine maker's Japanese suppliers has a factory near Fukushima in Japan and had to halt production for several weeks after the March 11 earthquake, Bregier said.
"It's just a little question mark which encourages us to be cautious," he added. (Additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Will Waterman)