BEIJING (Reuters) - Boeing (BA.N) reeled off targets including an unusual pledge to sell 1,000 jets this year -- putting it on course to recover leadership of the $100 billion global jet market amid growing tensions with its rival Airbus EAD.PA.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Jim Albaugh told Reuters that Boeing was targeting 1,000 plane orders for the year, up from 921 in 2011 when Boeing sank to its lowest share against Airbus when it hesitated over a key product decision.
“I think we are going to get there, there’s a lot of demand for big aircraft out there,” Albaugh said of the 1,000 figure which includes the whole range of Boeing models.
“It will be easier this year than next year,” he added.
Europe’s Airbus is targeting 600-650 orders, down from 1,608 in 2011 when it tapped into demand for a fuel-saving newer version of its A320 150-seat jet amid record oil prices.
Boeing later hit back with the similarly revamped 737 MAX and aims to restore a roughly equal market split over time.
It is unusual for Boeing to give a plane order target as opposed to a target for deliveries, which directly affect revenues and are seen as more reliable to predict.
The U.S. planemaker is keen to re-establish its footing after seeing Airbus set the pace with record orders for its revamped narrowbody A320neo last year, even though it was able to celebrate record orders for its profitable 777 wide-body.
Albaugh’s remarks indicate Boeing intends to keep up pressure on its rival from two directions at once sat it keeps up a run of larger 777 sales while Airbus looks to inject vigor into its comparatively slow-selling competitor, the A350-1000.
Albaugh’s prediction also reflects a war of words between the manufacturers as they attempt to draw away customers.
The world’s dominant planemakers have each accused each other of undercutting on price.
Albaugh vowed to defend a 50 percent share of sales of narrowbody jets as it clashes with Airbus EAD.PA in the biggest segment of the jet market, a portion whose value is estimated at $2 trillion worldwide over the next 20 years.
“We want to maintain our market share at 50 percent and we are going to do everything we can to win,” Albaugh told reporters earlier on the sidelines of an IATA airlines summit.
He said he also expected Boeing to reach a cumulative total of 1,000 firm contracts -- the same target number used in a different context -- for its revamped 737 MAX aircraft by the end of the year, including 451 already announced.
This target is a cumulative one for 737 MAX sales since the program was launched last September.
It means completing the task of converting more than 1,000 commitments and orders for 737 MAX, which was launched in response to the successful introduction of Airbus’s A320neo.
Boeing gave a strong hint that it may unveil a significant quantity of these orders at the Farnborough air show next month.
“I think we should have a very good Farnborough this year,” Albaugh said.
Airbus sales chief John Leahy said he was “very relaxed” about the A350-1000 and hinted a three-year order drought for the $320 million passenger jet could come to an end soon.
Asked whether Airbus could land a sale for its premier large twinjet at next month’s Farnborough air show in the UK, Leahy told Reuters “that is a possibility” and said Airbus was on course to win 600-650 total aircraft orders in 2012.
Experts say Boeing could have a slew of orders this year, though Airbus will be anxious to pull off surprises. The jet market is seen as intense in coming weeks.
Albaugh however moved to dampen expectations that the event would bring launches of two other projects aimed at rounding out Boeing’s wide-body fleet: a stretched Dreamliner called 787-10 and a substantially reworked 777, its most profitable plane.
“We haven’t gone to the board yet and it is only after we answer the questions that we have internally will we take it to the board,” Albaugh said. The 787-10 project is closer to being finalized than the 777 adjustment code-named 777X, he said.
Albaugh also predicted Boeing would secure new sales for the freight and passenger versions of its 747-8 stretched jumbo in coming months, including a new buyer for the 467-seat passenger version.
Reporting by Tim Hepher