PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA) is in talks with airlines over a stretched version of its A380 jet as it tries to boost sales of the superjumbo, the European planemaker's sales chief said on Monday.
John Leahy said at the Paris air show that the company was looking at the possibility of putting new engines on the jet or making a slightly stretched version with about 50 more seats.
"I'd say that we're talking to at least half a dozen (customers)," he said when asked if Airbus was in talks with any customers other than Emirates, which has been pushing for a new version of the plane.
When asked if an "A380neo" was a question of when, rather than if, Leahy said: "That's a good way of putting it, I would like to believe that." He cautioned, though, that the decision did not rest with him.
Airbus Group Chief Executive Tom Enders was quoted as saying last week that the group would decide around the end of the year whether to revamp the plane. Should a decision be made, then the plane could be ready for 2020-2021, Leahy said.
Leahy added that while orders for the A380 at the June 15-21 Paris show were unlikely, he certainly expected orders this year.
Airbus gave a more bullish outlook for demand for very large aircraft such as the A380, saying on Monday it expected 1,550 to be required over the next 20 years, contrasting with Boeing's reduced forecast for 540.
After announcing Saudi Arabian Airlines as the launch customer for its A330-300 regional on Monday, Leahy said he expected orders for the jet to also come from China.
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by James Regan and Mark Potter)