Airbus and Boeing stick with forecasts despite downturn

Paris Airshow: Jet manufacturers still aiming high despite US generals and executives staying away

The heads of the world's two biggest passenger jet makers underlined the grim economics in aviation yesterday while sticking with their forecasts for the number of planes they will deliver this year.

The head of US-based Boeing's passenger jet business, Alan Mulally, said the company was on target to reach 280 deliveries, while Airbus's chief executive, Noel Forgeard, confirmed his target of 300 aircraft this year. The comments came at the start of the Paris Air Show over the weekend.

The two bitter rivals have struggled to keep orders and deliveries flowing as airlines cut passenger capacity and mothball planes. The Sars illness, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and economic uncertainty in Europe and the US have depressed air travel.

Meeting the goal of 300 "will be quite an achievement in view of existing conditions", Mr Forgeard said. Last year Airbus delivered 303 aircraft.

Mr Forgeard said that "the three years ahead will be difficult for all industry players", and described the downturn in the airline business "as the most severe crisis the aviation industry has ever faced".

Mr Mulally said Boeing had cut production because fewer planes were needed. "It's really tough for the airlines," he said. "They need to get their balance sheets repaired and get profitable again."

He said that Boeing would delivery 280 aircraft this year, down from 381 last year. Orders would recover in 2005, he added.

The Pentagon barred its generals from attending the show. Many executives from top US companies also stayed away. The moves were widely interpreted as retaliation for France's opposition to the US-led war against Iraq.