Airbus is hoping to close the year on a positive note for its troubled ultralarge A380 aircraft programme, possibly concluding 2006 with over twenty additional orders. The airframer signed a deal signed today with Australia's Qantas Airways converting eight of its 12 options, a day after Singapore Airlines signed a follow-on deal for nine of the type.

However, at a ceremony to mark the SIA order conversions, Airbus chief executive Louis Gallois says he expects the airframer to secure additional orders for the recently-certificated A380 from existing customers for the ultra-large type.

Qantas announced in October that it planned to convert eight of the 12 options it held on the A380 into firm orders and the purchase agreement was formally signed in Sydney today at a ceremony attended by the airline’s chief executive Geoff Dixon and Gallois.

The Oneworld alliance carrier placed an initial order for 12 Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered A380s in 2000 and now has 20 on firm order.

As with other early customers, deliveries of Qantas’s A380s are badly delayed and its first is now due to arrive in August 2008 rather than the second half of 2006 as originally planned. Deliveries, including of the additional aircraft just ordered, will continue through 2015.

Yesterday Singapore Airlines signed a follow-on deal of its own lifting its firm A380 orders to 19 from 10.

At the singapore ceremony Gallois said: “You will have in the near future other good news [regarding A380 orders]…from existing customers for the A380.” At the time of speaking, Qantas's plans were already known, so it is unclear to which customer he was referring.

He declined to elaborate, although Lufthansa and Thai Airways International, which both have A380s on order, are seen as potential follow-on customers. Lufthansa recently placed a launch order for the passenger version of Boeing’s 747-8.