Airbus lifts long-term aircraft demand forecast

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PARIS (AP) — European jet maker Airbus is raising its long-term forecast for new airplane demand by more than 7 percent, based on expected orders of smaller, more fuel-efficient planes and burgeoning travel in Asia.

Airbus' top salesman, John Leahy, said Wednesday that air traffic will grow 4.7 percent annually over the next 20 years.

That will require 31,400 new passenger and freighter aircraft, of which 12,400 will replace existing planes with more efficient ones. The forecast is an increase from last year's, in which Airbus predicted 29,220 aircraft would need to be built through to 2033.

Airbus values the new aircraft needs at $4.6 billion. Single-aisle aircraft are expected to account for 70 percent of the new production, while 9,300 widebody aircraft will have to be built.

By 2033, the worldwide fleet will double to 37,500, Airbus predicts.

The company said demographic and economic trends in Asia are driving the growth in demand.

The forecast is slightly lower than that of Airbus' great rival, Boeing. In July, the U.S. jet maker forecast deliveries of 36,770 new aircraft over the next 20 years.

The two jet makers' forecasts diverge most sharply in the market for very large aircraft, where Airbus has staked out a claim with its A380 super-jumbo 550-seater.

Airbus sees the market for the A380 and Boeing's rival 747 at 1,500 aircraft over the next 20 years, down from its forecast of 1,700 last year. Rival Boeing predicts airlines will need less than half that, or 620 very large aircraft over that timeframe.

On Thursday, Airbus will stage the first flight of its A320neo, a revamped more fuel-efficient version of its best-selling single aisle family of jets.

Leahy told reporters that Airbus is "seriously considering" ramping up production of its widebody twin-engine jets, the A350 XWB and the A330neo.

Airbus expects to book more than 1,300 orders this year, Leahy said, near the record-setting 1,619 orders it booked in 2013.

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