Airbus Superjumbo May Face More Production Delays

Airbus parent EADS insisted Thursday it was too early to say whether the troubled A380 superjumbo jet faced further production hitches, after a minority shareholder said another delay was likely.

Mike Turner, chief executive of BAE Systems PLC, said Wednesday he would be "surprised if there weren't" any further delays. BAE owns 20 percent of Airbus and is planning to sell the stake to European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., which owns the remaining 80 percent.

But a spokesman for EADS said Thursday that the superjumbo's delivery schedule would not become clear until the results of a program audit are presented to the board the end of September.

"I don't know where he (Turner) has that information from," EADS spokesman Michael Hauger said. "The audit which EADS is doing at Airbus on the A380 is still ongoing."

Turner has said that BAE may consider legal action over the June announcement that the A380 program faced a second production delay of six months, news that sent EADS shares tumbling and decreased the value of BAE's stake.

Turner also said he believes there are risks over Airbus' A400M military transport plane program. EADS and Airbus officials have repeatedly denied newspaper reports that the program also faces long delays.

Airbus, which has been struggling with costly delays to the A380 jet program and management upheaval, would not immediately comment on Turner's comments. But company officials said Thursday Airbus plans to expand its training and parts centers in China in the coming years, part of increased demand for the group's airliners.

"We'll add a third flight training simulator by the end of next year and then a fourth simulator," said Laurence Barron, the president of the planemaker's Chinese operations. "We need to add the simulators to train more pilots. We'll also expand two parts centers in the next couple of years to correspond with the growth in the business."

Airbus problems come as it faces a revitalized challenge from Boeing's 787 Dreamliner program.

But while Boeing has been traditionally strong in Asia, Barron said sales of Airbus aircraft to China climbed to 219 in 2005 from 56 in 2004, a trend he expects to continue. Currently 20 percent of Airbus' production goes to the Chinese market.

"Airbus sees unprecedented potential in China," Barron said at the "China Meets Europe," gathering organized by the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce.

Barron said the Chinese market has seen 15 percent growth in aviation traffic in the last few years and that it was the market with the most sales potential for the company.

He said the company is also working closely with the Chinese in terms of production. About half of Airbus aircraft now include some Chinese made parts.

The cost of the projects announced Thursday, which will take place near the company's Beijing headquarters facilities, "wouldn't be significant," Barron said.

Shares in EADS fell 0.3 percent to close at $29.60 in Paris trading Thursday, after dropping 1.2 percent a day earlier.