(Reuters) - Airbus is on course to sell more than 800 aircraft in 2013, beating its initial order target by more than 100 units, the chief executive of parent EADS EAD.PA said on Wednesday.
The comments point to potentially robust sales at the Paris Air Show next month, where Airbus will battle arch-rival Boeing (BA.N) for a slice of demand driven by new fuel-saving models.
“I am comfortably forecasting that Airbus gross orders will be well above 800 units in 2013,” EADS CEO Tom Enders told a shareholders’ meeting in Amsterdam.
Cumulative orders between January and April stood at 514 aircraft. Airbus started the year with a sales goal of 700 after slipping behind U.S. competitor Boeing last year. The company’s sales chief last month predicted full-year orders of 750 jets.
Enders said the keenly awaited maiden flight for the latest Airbus jetliner, the A350, could take place in coming weeks and took a swipe at rival Boeing for unveiling an incomplete aircraft when it first rolled out the 787 Dreamliner in 2007.
The first complete A350 rolled out of the paint factory earlier this month, and industry sources have said it could fly before the June 17-23 air show, with a flypast at Le Bourget.
“(The A350) did not have rivets from Wal-Mart; it was a real aircraft with real rivets and everything else is real as well,” Enders said.
Boeing was criticized for displaying a presentational shell when it rolled out the 787 in a lavish ceremony in 2007. The aircraft first flew in 2009 and entered service two years later.
Enders said the project to develop a European competitor to the carbon-fiber 787 remained challenging, however.
“Intense preparations are under way for the first flight and I am quite confident this will take place (in line with) a conservative forecast in the summer; a more courageous version is in some weeks,” Enders said.
Enders and Denis Ranque, the former head of French defense firm Thales (TCFP.PA), who attended his first EADS shareholder meeting as chairman, said the Franco-German group would maintain a dividend ratio in line with the sector after lifting it to 40 percent.
EADS proposed a dividend for 2012 of 0.6 euros, up from 0.45 euros for the previous year when the payout stood at 35 percent.
“The dividend is converging towards a payout ratio in line with sector and industry peers. This policy will be our orientation for the future,” Ranque said.
EADS has promised shareholders higher dividends than in the past as Europe’s largest aerospace group moves out of a phase of high investments and leaves behind a series of costly overruns.
Editing by James Regan