PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Group Chief Executive Tom Enders has given the strongest hint yet that he may seek a new term as head of Europe's largest aerospace company, telling a French newspaper he does not feel ready for retirement when his mandate expires next year.
Asked by Le Journal du Dimanche about his priorities for the coming year, the last before his term expires in 2016, Enders said, "Let me clarify one thing: I don't plan to retire in a year's time. I am 56, not 66."
The German executive did not say whether he saw this activity beyond 2016 inside the group or elsewhere, but in an interview with Reuters last year he ruled out taking another job in the same industry or going into politics.
In that interview, conducted in May 2014, he said would start to address his next steps during 2015.
Enders joins his direct rival, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, in keeping the industry guessing over his future.
McNerney, 65, said last month he did not plan to retire "any time soon."
Enders said in Sunday's Le Journal du Dimanche interview that cashflow and profitability would be the two main Airbus priorities this year.
"We need to work hard to generate enough cash to finance development of the A320neo and A330neo, as well as other aircraft that will ensure the future and jobs," he was quoted as saying. "This cash must also allow us to increase our production capacity."
Airbus is developing revamped versions of the A320 and A330 aircraft, two significant sources of cash. It is also considering a similar upgrade for its A380 superjumbo to revive weak sales.
Airbus last week announced an increase in production of its A320 medium-haul family and a drop in output of the larger A330.
Enders said the aerospace industry must learn from technology companies such as Amazon and Facebook. Some have been investing in unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites.
"They demonstrate that we must make better use of one our assets: data. Aerospace companies churn a considerable amount of information in research, technology, production, purchasing, marketing and also by flying."
Mastering artificial intelligence could usher in a new era of pilotless planes, he said, apparently referring to transport.
"It seems like science fiction, but it could come a lot more quickly than people think."
Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Steve Orlofsky