(Corrects book-to-bill forecast in paragraph 7 to say appears to exclude the A380; corrects 2019 target to 860 deliveries, not 760, in paragraph 9)
* Airbus jet sales to top 1,000 this year, executive suggests
* Sees 2019 book-to-bill above one for all airliner programmes
* Airbus sales chief says too early to consider replacing A320
By Laurence Frost and Tim Hepher
PARIS, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Airbus is on course to end 2019 with a rise in its order backlog after netting more sales than deliveries across its major products, a senior executive said on Wednesday, thanks partly to strong demand in Asia.
Airbus is expected to beat arch-rival Boeing in orders and, unusually, in deliveries this year as the Boeing 737 MAX remains grounded with its production now also halted.
The launch of a long-range new version of the mainstay Airbus A321 medium-range jet, and a wave of business in Asia, has led to a higher-than-expected haul for Europe’s planemaker.
Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer, who stepped up from the ATR turboprop affiliate to take the top Airbus sales job just over a year ago, hinted that Airbus would top 1,000 gross orders this year, up at least 20% from 2018.
The robust performance comes despite trade tensions and U.S. tariffs on Airbus jets in a transatlantic subsidy dispute, though Scherer insisted trade duties posed a “very serious problem” for airline clients.
Noting that Airbus has won 940 orders so far this year, Scherer said the planemaker expected to reach a milestone by the end of the year, in a clear sign it would cross the 1,000 mark.
He also said Airbus would show a book-to-bill ratio above one for every civil programme, meaning net orders after cancellations would exceed delivery volumes. The prediction appeared to exclude the A380, which is no longer being sold.
Airbus notched up 940 gross sales and 718 net orders after cancellations in the first 11 months.
It targets 860 deliveries, having lowered that 2019 goal due to delays in production of the A321neo. Scherer said Airbus was working to ease the problem but that it would take time to absorb the delays completely. It has not yet decided whether to build a new A321neo assembly line, he added.
Boeing sold 243 jets or an unadjusted net total of 56 after cancellations between January and November. That excludes a tentative deal from British Airways owner IAG for 200 of its grounded 737 MAX that is yet to be confirmed. While the MAX is on backfoot, Boeing has sold 75 of its 787 Dreamliners.
Scherer defended Airbus’s position in the wide-body market against planes like the 787, saying it would fight for its A350-1000 to replace Boeing’s successful 777-300ER.
Airbus suffered a setback earlier this year when it was forced to announce plans to close production of its A380 superjumbo, the world’s largest airliner, due to weak sales.
But the launch of the smaller A321XLR and a surge in sales of the A220, an even smaller jet recently acquired by Airbus from Canada’s Bombardier, underpinned demand.
Air France said on Wednesday it had finalised an order for 60 of the 130-seat A220 planes.
Scherer also denied that Airbus stood to benefit from rival Boeing’s decision to suspend production of its grounded 737 MAX jet after two deadly crashes, emphasising that the disruption would hurt the sector at large.
“We’re in a growth industry,” Scherer said on a conference call with French aerospace journalists. “When you have one player that isn’t playing its part, it’s extremely destructive,” he added, referring to the balance of the aircraft market rather than Boeing’s efforts to get changes to the jet approved.
The eventual development of a larger version of the Airbus A220 was “not a question of if, but when”, Scherer said, adding that it is not currently under consideration.
A replacement for the 150-240 seat A320 jet family will also have to wait for a breakthrough improvement in environmental and economic performance, unlikely before the 2030s, Scherer said.
Boeing’s grounding crisis has led to sporadic rumours of a new race to build replacements for the 737 and competing A320.
A premature A320 replacement without as-yet unproven technology would threaten global climate objectives taken by the aerospace industry, Scherer said.
Airbus has said it is examining a demonstration model for a “decarbonised” 100-seat regional plane that could nurture technology for a broader generation of planes in the 2030s. (Reporting by Laurence Frost and Tim Hepher; editing by Louise Heavens and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)