Airbus is set to overtake US rival Boeing in the number of annual aircraft deliveries for the first time in more than 25 years, the company revealed at the Paris Airshow.
Noel Forgeard: Realistic but optimistic
The European aircraft company said it was on target to deliver 300 jets this year, despite facing the industry's worst ever downturn.
In January, Airbus had predicted it would win only about 175 orders in 2003, with the market for civil aircraft suffering a sharp decline amid global uncertainty since the 11 September attacks.
Speaking at the Paris Airshow, Airbus head Noel Forgeard said he was seeing early signs of a pick-up.
"We are realistic about the current economic environment, but we are also optimistic," Mr Forgeard said.
"The market is better than we expected and our market share has
increased much more than we anticipated."
The Sars illness in Asia, worries about the war in Iraq and the situation in
Afghanistan, fears of terrorism and slow economic growth have all depressed traffic and led the major airlines to cut back on orders for new aircraft.
Boeing, the US air giant and fierce rival of Airbus, has seen just 36 orders this year and is predicting about 280 deliveries for 2003.
Were US firms asked to stay away?
"Boeing's best assessment is that traffic comes back in 2003, the airlines repair their balance sheets and keep working on their productivity and get back on track in 2004," Boeing's chief executive Alan Mulally said.
Both Airbus and Boeing are expected to sign new orders this week, with a significant deal with the Dubai-based Emirates airline expected later on Monday.
Initial reports suggest that Emirates will sign multi-billion dollar deals with both firms, splitting its order in the favour of Boeing.
Thai Airways, Malaysia's Airline System and Qatar Airways are amongst other firms expected to finalise deals in the coming weeks.
maker Embraer, however, was forced to cut its forecast to 110 from 132
aircraft and admitted it faced delays in certifying its new 170 regional jet
The 45th Paris Airshow, the largest and oldest aerospace gathering in the world, is taking place against the backdrop of an industrywide economic crisis.
The sector has racked up losses of about $30bn over the past two years and is expected to lose a further $10bn this year.
The political tension between the US and France has also come into play.
Industry insiders suggest that Washington put pressure on US companies not to attend because of France's anti-war stance.