LONDON Airbus profits are set to grow through the middle of the decade and the European planemaker does not expect its hands to be tied by increased government ownership after a shake-up at parent EADS, it's CEO said.
Chief executive Fabrice Bregier also said in an interview on Monday that Airbus EAD.PA sold almost 200 planes in November, leaving it four short of a target of 650 for the year.
After adjusting for cancellations, net orders stood at 585 and deliveries at 516 in January-November, leaving Airbus behind its U.S. rival for the first time in several years.
The latest buyers were not identified but there are widespread expectations that Asia's largest low-cost carrier, AirAsia (AIRA.KL), will soon add another 100 European jets.
Bregier was speaking as European nations fine-tuned a deal to alter the corporate structure of Europe's largest aerospace group, bringing in Germany as a direct shareholder of EADS for the first time while reducing industrial proxy shareholdings.
Industrial and diplomatic sources say Germany is withholding part of an 1.2 billion euro loan designed to help Airbus build its next model of jet, the carbon-composite A350, in a row over the allocation of jobs and research at the European planemaker.
Germany is expected to take a 12 percent stake in EADS, matching France which will see its voting rights capped at the same level under a deal to preserve parity between the two nations and hoist the market's free float above 70 percent.
Unlike existing rules that apply to France, Paris and Berlin are expected to have few special rights in the new scheme.
"This (proposal as reported in the press) is subject to confirmation but with 12 percent as a shareholder, you can influence 12 percent of the company," the Frenchman said.
"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.
Amid concerns expressed by some analysts about a squeeze on profits and a spike in costs in the middle of the decade, Bregier insisted Airbus had the potential to increase its profits on a yearly basis.
"It is not simple when we talk about risky programs like the A350 but it is also an extremely strong objective and we have the potential to increase the profitability year on year for the next 4-5 years."
Bregier also said his priority was to maintain narrowbody production at a record 42 planes a month during a transition period between two models of A320 aircraft.
Airbus 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.
Noting that the most recent ramp-up had been "painful" for suppliers, he 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.
However he said Airbus did not feel under pressure to introduce the A350-800, following a decision by its launch customer Qatar Airways to upgrade to larger models, but would instead take time to optimize its design. Bregier reaffirmed a target of reaching breakeven on the A380 superjumbo in 2015.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Cyril Altmeyer and Jane Barrett; Editing by David Holmes and Helen Massy-Beresford)