SYDNEY: The head of European aerospace giant EADS Monday said its aircraft unit Airbus is on track to deliver the first A350 XWB by the end of next year.
The wide-bodied aircraft is the latest passenger jet from Airbus as the Toulouse-based manufacturer ramps up production in a bid to overtake US rival Boeing and become the world's biggest plane producer within four or five years.
"We are on track to deliver the first aircraft at the end of 2014. It's going to be a great aircraft," said Tom Enders, chief executive of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).
The new fuel-efficient airliner is set to compete with Boeing's troubled 787 Dreamliner.
"The 350 is a bit behind the 787 in terms of schedule," Enders admitted during a trip to Sydney, but noted that 750 of the latest model have already been sold.
"I was quite pleased that we were trailing the 787 because by taking our time we could learn some of the lessons from that project," he said.
Airbus last week unveiled a $9.5 billion deal with Japan Airlines (JAL), challenging Boeing's dominance in the Japanese market as it struggles with the Dreamliner.
Enders, who was Airbus chief executive from 2007 to 2012, said he hoped the company's first order from Japan's flagship carrier would lead to more sales in Tokyo.
"We hope that other actors in Japan see that it's worldwide, we have the same competition, and look seriously at Airbus products in the near future, he said, referring to the company's success in competing against Boeing across the globe.
JAL has ordered 18 long-haul A350-900s and 13 A350-1000s with an option to buy another 25 aircraft.
The German admitted he was disappointed by sales of the double-decker A380, of which 111 have been delivered so far with 150 more on order.
"It's very obvious we cannot be content with the level of sales that we have on the A380... (it) was impacted by the economic crisis but also by the problems we had... we had to refurbish the entire fleet," he told Australia's National Aviation Press Club.
But he was optimistic about its future.
"I believe that the time of this plane is still to come. After all... we don't develop aircraft for five or 10 years, we develop aircraft for 20, 30 years."
Boeing's 787 Dreamliner -- hailed for its fuel-efficiency but marred by years of production delays -- was grounded globally in January after lithium-ion batteries overheated on two different planes, with one of them catching fire while parked.