COLOMIERS, France — The international aircraft industry will recover faster than expected, European manufacturer Airbus said Monday, predicting a need for about $3.2 trillion in new passenger and freighter planes globally over the next 20 years.
The figure translates to nearly 26,000 aircraft, up slightly from an earlier forecast for 25,000. Strong growth in new markets and low-cost airlines in Asia will help propel demand. Though global air traffic historically doubles every 15 years, it is expected to do so in India and China in only six years, the company said.
Airbus' 2010-2029 upbeat market forecast followed several recent setbacks for the European consortium.
On Nov. 4, a Qantas A380 superjumbo, Airbus' star plane, made a safe emergency landing in Singapore in what was the most significant safety issue yet for the giant jet since it began passenger flights in 2007.
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On top of that, a French investigating judge has placed Airbus' chief operating officer, John Leahy, under investigation — a step short of formal charges — on allegations of insider trading in a longstanding probe targeting several executives of Airbus and its parent company EADS.
The preliminary charges, filed Nov. 5 but not reported until days ago, give the magistrate more time to investigate and decide whether to send the case to trial. At least four other people face preliminary charges in the investigation, said Agnes Labregere of the Paris prosecutor's office.
Last year, a similar investigation by the French stock market regulator AMF cleared EADS executives, saying there was no evidence they used knowledge of delays to the A380 program when selling shares or exercising stock options worth millions of dollars in 2005 and early 2006.
Leahy said he was disappointed a judge was pursuing the case.
"We were all shown to be innocent by the AMF, who are the real experts in this," Leahy told reporters in southwest France.
EADS released a statement saying it had "full confidence" in those involved.
Addressing the Qantas emergency landing, Leahy criticized engine-maker Rolls-Royce's public relations after the incident, suggesting the company hadn't been forthcoming enough. An oil leak caused the plane's Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine to disintegrate in mid-air — an event that led to a global safety review of the world's biggest jetliner.
"The airplane performed very well, the engine didn't perform quite as well," Leahy told the Associated Press after the news conference, adding that Rolls-Royce is installing a software fix so the engine will shut itself down in case of problems.
Leahy spoke at Airbus' delivery center, where a newly manufactured Qantas A380 was being readied for handover to the airline.
Airbus' long-term forecasts were slightly higher than last year's, when it predicted that 25,000 new passenger and freighter aircraft valued at $3.1 trillion would be delivered from 2009 to 2028. The predictions are for planes by all manufacturers.
The change reflects "a slightly higher growth rate of 4.8 percent compared to 4.7 percent in 2009," the company said.
It said most deliveries would be single-aisle planes. Airbus is at work on a version of its narrow-body A320, equipped with new fuel-efficient engines, to be ready for 2016.
In the past decade, despite the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the economic crisis, global air traffic has increased 45 percent, Leahy said, calling the industry "strong and dynamic."
In July, Airbus' Chicago-based competitor Boeing Co. said during its annual forecast that the global industry will need $3.6 trillion in new aircraft over the next two decades, or about 30,900 new jets.
The two companies have different criteria on the size of jets they include in their forecasts. Airbus looks at only jets of 100 seats and above, while Boeing includes planes of 90 seats and above.
They also see a different future for the size of planes: Boeing says the world will need 720 large aircraft such as Boeing's 747 and the A380 in the next two decades. Airbus puts that figure much higher, at 1,740.