February 7, 2018 / 10:49 AM / 4 months ago

AIRSHOW-New Airbus sales chief seeks to lift weak sales of A330neo

* Schulz says A330neo flight test results are encouraging

* Says low cost, long-haul carriers to favour A330neo as oil climbs (Adds quotes and background)

By Tim Hepher

SINGAPORE, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Airbus’ new sales chief has set his sights on winning more than two new customers for the slow-selling A330neo this year, as he seeks to improve the European company’s position in the market for long-haul jets.

In his first interview since joining Airbus from Rolls-Royce last month, Eric Schulz said sales must accelerate for both the A330neo and the larger A350-1000 in the next two to three years, while demand remained buoyant for the mid-sized A350-900.

Flight test results from the A330neo, an upgraded version of Airbus’s most-sold wide-body jet that is due to enter service this summer, are encouraging, Schulz told Reuters at the Singapore Airshow.

“I am very optimistic about what I have seen about the performance of the plane,” Schulz said.

Although Airbus beat Boeing in the order race last year, following a final flurry of business by Schulz’s predecessor, John Leahy, steadying the demand for Airbus wide-body fleet is a priority after Boeing took three in every four orders in 2017.

“This is an area where we have been most challenged...and I would be honest by saying that part of my success will be measured by my ability to change that,” said Schulz.

“The next 24 months, the next three years, are the years when things have to accelerate, that is for the A330neo and the A350-1000,” he said, adding it was common for airlines to wait until jets entered service before making major decisions.

Thee A350-1000 is due to be delivered to its first customer, Qatar Airways, in coming weeks.

Industry experts say the A330neo, a refresh of the A330 launched with fuel-saving engines in 2014 at a time when oil was above $100 a barrel, has struggled to make its mark due to lower oil prices and the popularity of the underlying model.

Additionally, Boeing has been actively targeting potential customers with its newer Boeing 787, which it says outclasses the older Airbus model.

Schulz said airlines such as those setting up low cost, long-haul operations would favour the A330neo, whose economics would come to the fore as oil prices rise back towards $80. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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