John Leahy: The Airbus quote machine

Looking none the worse for recent heart surgery, Airbus chief salesman John Leahy was in London today (22 November) launching the European manufacturer’s Global Market Forecast, it’s first for two years.
Just as our recent blog with Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker showed, Leahy is a quote machine. So here are the highlights from his packed press conference, which did, as my colleague from Flight International Max Kingsley-Jones observed, start 20 minutes late. Typical Airbus we commented dryly.
1. Leahy didn’t shy away from the obvious: Airbus has had a bad year. Or has it really been that bad? Leahy observed that despite the “absolute mess Airbus is in in 2006″, it will still end up being its second best ever sales performance. Current sales stand at 619 aircraft, compared to the record-setting level of 1,111 in 2005. “This surprised a lot of people in Toulouse when I mentioned it…It has been one of the best of years as well as one of the worst of years,” he said.
2. Market share. Leahy’s target in order terms is to keep in the 40-60% band. This year after five ahead of Boeing, Airbus will most likely fall behind again. It has 43% of the year’s orders now, in unit, terms, and around 35-37% of orders by value. “In terms of deliveries it is our best ever year – we will deliver 425 aircraft.”
3. A380 compensation. Asked (by me actually) if Airbus was setting an industry record for airline compensation levels on a single programme with the A380 Leahy had a straight reply: “I wouldn’t know if we are setting new records. What I do know is the compensation is reasonable in many cases,” he said, adding that in most cases it is capped.
4. A380 cancellations. Despite three delays to the A380, Leahy does not expect any more cancellations after FedEx chopped its A380 freigher order. Customers “get mad, but they don’t talk about cancellations, they are talking about compensation…all the others are staying with us”. And, in fact, carriers like Qantas, Singapore Airlines and others are talking about how many more they are buying, he said.
5. Low-cost A380. After evacuation tests that got 853 people and 20 crew off the A380, Leahy is only half-joking about the super jumbo as a real people-mover. The success of the test means “I’ve got to update my brochures,” he said, when asked if low-cost carriers might be interested in the aircraft. Leahy revealed he was talking to a carrier interested in the A330 that afternoon that had also asked for a idea of the A380 in a low-cost configuration.
6. A350 launch. Wait for the EADS board meeting, said Leahy. But: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fact of how many of our customers are willing to wait for it (the A350). It has slowed sales for our competitor,” he said, referring of course to Boeing’s 787.
7. Salesmanship. Asked if sorting out the A380 issues was taking up most of his time, Leahy replied “too much!” He is currently spending about 50% of his energy on the A380 and the rest on new aircraft sales. However, the A380 talks have had some spin-off benefits: “Part of sorting out the A380′s problems is producing new sales.”

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