Airbus Chief Salesman Says A380's Problems Are in The Past

Delays have hurt more than just profits, denting Airbus' reputation and allowing U.S. rival Boeing Co. to sneak into the top sales spot in 2006.

Leahy admits to selling shares in 2005 and 2006, but says he is "sure there is nothing really behind" the allegations.

The A380 represents Airbus' bet on future demand for long-haul travel between increasingly congested hub airports worldwide. Boeing argues passengers want point-to-point journeys between smaller airports and is targeting the more lucrative market for midsized jets.

Another question is whether the A380 can turn a profit. Harald Liberge-Dondoux, aerospace analyst at Aurel Leven in Paris, reckons Airbus needs to sell 470 superjumbos just to break even.

Leahy said production will start at around 25-30 jets per year, ramping up to 45 by 2010. Already 16 customers, including recently British Airways, have booked 189 orders or firm commitments and Leahy says that number may exceed 200 by the end of the year.

Over the A380's lifetime, Leahy predicts Airbus will sell "well over 800 planes" and is targeting every airline currently flying a Boeing 747.

"When this airplane is out flying, my marketing job will get a lot easier," he said, predicting that new orders would keep pace with production.

The company got a boost Thursday with word that Airbus had signed a memorandum of understanding with Spanish tourism and transportation company Grupo Marsans to provide 61 aircraft, including four A380 superjumbos.

EADS shares also climbed following Boeing's announcement that it is delaying initial deliveries of its the 787 Dreamliner by six months, citing assembly problems. Deliveries that had been scheduled to begin next May will be pushed back to late November or December 2008.

Shares in EADS gained 3.6 percent to €23.99 (US$34.06) in Paris, even though analysts have said Boeing's production problems do not appear to be as severe as the snags that delayed the A380.

"It's unfortunate that it took us so long to build it, and its unfortunate that we ran over budget, but now that's behind us," Leahy said.

"We have a game-changing aircraft that has an enormous demand in the marketplace."


Associated Press Writer Elizabeth Ryan contributed to this report.


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