* Current output goal for popular A320 is 50/month
* Sales chief sees decision on production before year-end
* Sales chief eyes A330 Regional order ahead of air show (Adds more comments, shares)
By Tim Hepher
TOULOUSE, May 28 (Reuters) - Planemaker Airbus hinted at further production increases in its popular A320 series on Thursday, saying market demand would justify a leap to “more than 60 aircraft” a month.
Sales chief John Leahy said anticipated demand already exceeded the planemaker’s existing production goal of 50 planes a month and that Airbus was studying further increases.
Airbus currently produces 42 of the medium-haul planes a month and has already set an output goal of 50 a month by the first quarter of 2017.
Rival Boeing is looking at producing 52 of its competing 737 model a month by 2018.
Speaking at a media briefing, Leahy said he expected a decision on A320 production before the end of the year, adding the issue being examined was the status of the supply chain.
“You have the opinion of John Leahy about what we ought to do going forward, but we aren’t committed to anything yet,” he said.
Fabrice Bregier, head of the planemaking unit of Airbus Group, said in January there was a debate between sales and production staff about how quickly to increase production of the single-aisle A320, which is also in the midst of being upgraded.
He also said it may have to reduce production of its wide-body A330 further than previously anticipated, amid waning demand for the current version of the jet which faces competition from Boeing’s newer 787 Dreamliner.
On Thursday, Leahy said he was confident of avoiding a further reduction below the latest target of 6 A330s a month if current sales prospects in the pipeline came to fruition.
He said he expected an order announcement on a recently launched A330 Regional version, which offers a cap on range at a lower price for airlines operating relatively short routes, by the June 15-21 Paris Airshow.
But he said Airbus would not produce ‘white tails,’ or jets without customers lined up in advance of delivery, and would adjust production higher or lower as needed to reflect sales.
Airbus shares were down 0.2 percent at 0900 GMT, while the CAC index of leading French shares was down 0.4 percent.
Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Victoria Bryan