Allan McArtor, new chairman of Airbus' North American arm, says the European manufacturer faces two major near-term challenges in the USA: to increase local sales of its widebody aircraft, which have lagged behind the success of the A320; and to sell the company to an increasingly wary political establishment in Washington DC.

The former Legend Airlines chief executive joins Airbus at a critical time of growing market presence in the USA. Deliveries to North American customers are averaging two aircraft a week compared with six years ago when local sales were at 10 a year.

"Airbus has done a remarkable job at selling aircraft and now it must do as good a job at selling the company to different audiences including the travelling public, customer airlines, suppliers, Wall Street analysts and, maybe even more importantly, our Congress and administration," says McArtor.

Increasing Airbus sales to mainstream US carriers have come largely at the expense of Boeing, generating increased political scrutiny of the consortium's trade practices by the commerce department and criticism from influential congressmen such as Bill Lipinski.

Airbus, in response, has pointed to the 40% US content in its aircraft and around $5 billion worth of work that flows to some 800 local companies.

"We need to be more aggressive in trying to manage the Airbus story; if we don't, someone else will do it for us," says McArtor. "There is a lot of myth and theory about how Airbus sells aircraft and the support it receives. We need to set the record straight on a number of things. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own set of facts."

A good proportion of the 1,891 aircraft sold in the region have been accounted for by A320 series orders from America West, International Lease Finance, Northwest Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways. Sales of widebody passenger aircraft have been noticeably fewer in number, with the exception of 25 A330s sold to US Airways and, more recently, Northwest.

"Widebody sales in the US are increasing and I would like to see them increase even more," says McArtor. "I think US airlines are interested in the A330 and A340 and, once it has demonstrated that it can deliver substantially lower seat mile costs, the A380."

Airbus attention is focused on finding a US buyer for the new A340-500/600 among the local carriers operating the competing Boeing 777, such as American or United Airlines."My objective is to sell Continental's Gordon Bethune an Airbus widebody. Then you'll know that we have arrived," says McArtor.

Source: Flight International