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Airbus executive raises doubt on order target

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PARIS – The top sales executive at Airbus placed a question mark on Monday over the jetmaker’s order forecast for 2009, but insisted aviation would recover from its current slump in a global economy s

PARIS – The top sales executive at Airbus placed a question mark on Monday over the jetmaker’s order forecast for 2009, but insisted aviation would recover from its current slump in a global economy still hooked on air travel.

Airbus, the world’s largest producer of commercial airliners ahead of Boeing, is targeting 300-400 gross orders before cancellations in 2009 but so far it has booked only 30.

Commercial Director John Leahy told reporters he still hoped to achieve the target but conceded the current pace of orders suggested the annual total would fall short of a hundred or so.

“I don’t think it will be less a hundred, but if you had to bet today, you would probably bet on fewer than 300,” he told a technical press briefing at the company’s Toulouse headquarters, monitored by webcast from Paris.

Leahy said he expected aircraft deliveries to remain broadly flat during the downturn. However he expected Airbus to lose up to 12-13 percent of its backlog through cancellations as a result of cyclical pressures, adding Airbus could “afford” this because of the size of its 3,600-strong aircraft order book.

Parent EADS is due to release first-quarter earnings on Tuesday and may give an update on its outlook, which so far foresees “roughly stable” group revenues based on deliveries equalling last year’s record of 483 planes.

Airbus delivered 116 aircraft in the first quarter compared with 123 in the first three months of last year.

Leahy said he was confident airline passenger traffic would continue to double every 15 years, propelled by a proven correlation with growth once the world emerges from recession.

He dismissed pessimistic forecasts by airlines body IATA, saying they under-played low-cost airlines and domestic travel.

However he noted that cargo traffic had fallen more sharply in recent months than in previous industry downturns and said a lot of freight carriers were in “serious trouble.”