Boeing Co. expects to lay off at least 25,000 workers by the middle of next year, the head of the aerospace giant's commercial aircraft business said Friday, in comments that raised the minimum number of previously announced job cuts by 25 percent.

Chicago-based Boeing said in September it would cut 20,000 to 30,000 workers in its Seattle-area jetliner unit, saying the post-Sept. 11 travel slump has forced airlines to scale back orders for new jets.

Boeing's commercial jet chief, Alan Mulally, defended the cuts on a Seattle talk radio program, telling angry callers the reductions would keep the company nimble as it halves production of airliners.

"Right now, our best projection is that we are going to have to reduce our team by 25,000 to 30,000 by the middle of next year," Mulally said when asked how many layoffs would be made.

"That goes right with our projection of new airplanes, going from 48 airplanes a month to 24 airplanes a month," Mulally said.

Boeing's top brass had no plans to take salary cuts, citing the need to make sure the company could keep talented executives in tough times, Mulally said.

Shares in Boeing rose 32 cents to $37.32 in early afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Though that is nearly 40 percent higher than the year low of $27.61 hit in late September, it is still well below the high of about $70 it traded at almost exactly one year ago.