Julian Moxon/PARIS

Airbus Industrie expects to achieve "significantly lower" sales during 1999, following its record breaking year of orders and deliveries, but insists it will continue the near-50% market share achieved in 1998 in all areas where it competes with Boeing.

Commercial vice-president John Leahy declines to predict the size of the reduction in demand, but says: "It is not really an issue, because we have such a healthy order backlog that we will be able to keep on with a progressive increase in deliveries."

Deliveries were up by 26% on 1997, to 229 aircraft, and will increase to 290 this year, and are expected to be around 315 in 2000. The backlog has doubled in the last three years, to 1,309 aircraft worth around $92.7 billion - another record for the consortium. "We have persuaded airlines to accept longer delivery times by arguing that aircraft are not commodities, but high-technology assets," says Leahy. He adds that airlines have become "more responsible and rational" than they were during the order boom of the early 1990s, "-so we will not see deliveries plummet". The final sales figure for 1999 will be supported by the 174 commitments held at year-end, which Leahy hopes "-will be turned into firm orders". The situation in South East Asia affected Airbus less than Boeing because, according to Leahy, "-we weren't as exposed as Boeing". He believes the Asian market has ended its descent and will "-bounce along like this for a couple of years and then recover above the trendline".

Airbus president Noel Forgeard says the process of creating a single corporate entity from the consortium is "complex". Continuing differences between the four partners on their part in the future European aerospace entity culminated at the end of December in the failure to exchange the dossiers containing the valuations. Forgeard says: "I have a conviction that, whatever the configuration of the European aviation industry in three years, the Airbus company will be created."

He remains evasive on the launch date of the planned A3XX, but says that a target of 30-40 orders from three to four customers has been set for the launch. "We'll press the button when the market is ready and we have reasonable assurances," he says.

Airbus believes there is a market for around 1,300 aircraft over 400 seats through to 2017, and is confident that it will take "a minimum of" 700 orders in this category. Forgeard adds that "-we have no doubts whatever on the A3XX's viability, although we're looking at slightly lower figures for the Asian market". Airbus is, however, sticking to its commitment for a "substantial programme decision in 1999", however.

Source: Flight International