By Tim Hepher
TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - Airbus gave its newly acquired Canadian CSeries jet a new name and looked close to winning an inaugural order on Tuesday as it prepares to broaden its battle with Boeing for jet sales.
The European firm said it was rebranding the plane as the A220, slotting it just under its longstanding A300 portfolio which stretches from the 124-seat A319 to the 544-seat A380.
Airbus expects to sell a "double-digit" number of the jets that have 110-130 seats this year and sees demand for at least 3,000 of them over 20 years, said CSeries sales chief David Dufrenois.
"I don't think it will be very long before we see the first results on the market," said Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Eric Schulz.
The CSeries has been locked in a fierce competition for a deal to supply jets to U.S. carrier JetBlue (JBLU.O) and is in poll position to win as Airbus also offers more attractive delivery positions on its larger planes, industry sources said.
Airbus and JetBlue declined comment.
The rebranding seals the takeover of one of Canada's most visible industrial projects and ends Bombardier's efforts to go it alone in the mainline jet market against larger rivals.
Airbus officials stressed it would be positive for jobs in Quebec where the lightweight jet is built.
The 110-seat and 130-seat models, previously known as CS100 and CS300, will be known as A220-100 and A220-300 respectively.
A deal for Airbus to take majority control of the loss-making Montreal-based aircraft programme with Bombardier and Quebec as minority partners closed on July 1.
The move also sets the stage for a broader confrontation with Boeing, which last week announced a tentative deal to take over the commercial unit of Bombardier's competitor Embraer.
Until now the two plane giants have focused mainly on planes starting at 150 seats and largely ignored the niche below their single-aisle jets.
Adding the smaller models to their portfolios will broaden the revenue base of each company and prevent a key slice of Western know-how reaching potential competitor China, which had held talks to buy the CSeries, people involved in the deal said.
The change of identity came in a slick branding ceremony as the Canadian-developed passenger jet performed a flypast in searing heat over Airbus's Toulouse facilities, with executives papering over past differences over prospects for the jet.
Airbus said it expected total demand for 7,000 planes in its category over 20 years, including its own A319.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Edmund Blair)