Superjumbo boost from BA to lift aircraft sales to $2,600bn

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The Independent Online

Airbus, the embattled European jet manufacturer, predicted yesterday that British Airways would become a major customer for its A380 superjumbo, even though the aircraft is two years behind schedule and plagued with problems.

The prediction came as Airbus dramatically increased its forecast of aircraft demand over the next 20 years. Its latest estimate is that the world's airlines will order some 22,700 new aircraft worth $2,600bn between now and 2025 - an increase of 5,400 or almost one-third on its global forecast last year - due to the explosive growth of air travel in developing countries such as China and India.

Over the 20-year period China will soar up the rankings to become the world's second biggest aircraft market, buying nearly 3,000 jets worth $350bn. The UK will be the world's third biggest jet market with demand for nearly 1,300 aircraft worth $146bn. Airbus executives added that a significant amount of that demand would be generated by the A380.

Airbus forecasts that by 2020 some 85 superjumbos a day will be landing at Heathrow airport - many of them in the livery of BA. Unlike its long-haul rival Virgin Atlantic, BA has yet to order any A380s, but last month it invited Boeing and Airbus to bid for a fleet replacement and expansion order potentially worth £10bn. A decision on which aircraft BA will buy is due next spring.

John Leahy, Airbus's chief commercial officer, said: "I'd like to think it is a matter of when, not if, BA will be flying the A380."

He added that he had been assured by Airbus's production team that there would be no further delays to the A380 programme and said he did not expect any more airlines to follow the lead of FedEx, which cancelled its order for 10 freighter versions of the A380 a fortnight ago. "Sure, customers are mad at the delays. But they don't talk about cancellation, they talk about compensation."

Airbus has orders for 149 A380s from 15 launch customers. It puts demand for very large aircraft at 1,660, of which 1,260 are passenger versions, and believes it will get at least half the market or some 850 orders.

The forecast predicts that passenger traffic will increase by 4.8 per cent a year so that by 2025 it will be two-and-a-half times its size at present. Over the next five years, passenger growth will average 4 per cent a year in the US but in China it will be 11 per cent and in India 10 per cent.

Although the A380 will seat 555 passengers in a standard three-class configuration, Mr Leahy said that most of the launch customers planned to equip their aircraft to hold 470 to 500 passengers. However, he believes that some airlines in the Asia Pacific region will pack as many as 800 passengers on to A380s flying short-haul routes and said that outline discussions were being held with one unnamed budget carrier about using the superjumbo for low-cost flights.

Asia Pacific will account for 56 per cent of all A380 sales, with Hong Kong handling the biggest number of superjumbos of any airport in the world. But in third place after Heathrow will be Dubai, where the national carrier Emirates has placed an order for 45 of the aircraft.

The latest Airbus forecast comes as the company prepares to launch its latest model, the A350-XWB, next week. The 275-350 seat aircraft will cost an estimated $12bn to develop and will not enter service until 2013. Airbus executives say they do not believe its parent company EADS will have to go to shareholders to raise new funds for the aircraft.

Refundable launch aid of up to $4bn will be needed from Airbus's four sponsor governments - Britain, France, Germany and Spain.

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