PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA) sees continued strength in the aircraft market and may be able to increase production of its most popular jets beyond their planned rates if that trend continues, the head of the European planemaker said on Friday.
Fabrice Bregier, chief executive of the plane making unit of Airbus Group, said he believed Airbus would eventually recapture the top plane making slot from Boeing as its new A350 jet comes into its own, but market share came second to profitable growth.
Airbus is well placed to deliver 15 of the wide-body A350 planes this year and continues to expect more orders than deliveries in 2015, he said in Paris at a briefing to French aerospace media association AJPAE.
Airbus plans to raise output of its best-selling A320 model to 50 planes a month from 42 month between now and 2017 and has talked of pushing output even further to 60 or beyond. Rival Boeing is on a similar course with its competing 737 jet.
"The market is very strong and we have said we can produce 50 (A320s) a month by 2017 and if the market remains supported there is the possibility to go higher," Bregier said.
Asked if he could give a theoretical estimate of how long it would take to reach such levels, he said it would depend on the supply chain but agreed with a suggestion that it could be around 2020, adding "we are far from doing the studies on that."
Airbus and Boeing are increasingly reliant on such models to drive profits and provide the cash needed to complete new jets or carry out upgrades to other types of aircraft.
Bregier reiterated Airbus would not abandon the much larger A380 after an order slump for that model, but said it would take a careful look at the business case before deciding whether to revamp it with new engines as requested by Dubai's Emirates.
"We are working on the evolution of the aircraft and I have said there will be aerodynamic and engine options, just as there are across the portfolio, but we must launch them at the right time and when we believe there is a business case."
He said there was no connection between the study of an upgrade and the decision by Emirates to place a large engine order with Rolls-Royce for the existing version of A380.
There has been speculation that Emirates' decision to drop its traditional U.S. engine supplier strengthened the chances that Rolls-Royce (RR.L) would agree to re-engine the A380.
Airbus is in the midst of upgrades to its two other models, the medium-haul A320 and the long-range A330.
Bregier said the first upgraded A320neo with Pratt & Whitney (UTX.N) engines would be delivered by the end of the year and that the first flight tests with alternative engines from CFM (GE.N)(SAF.PA) should take place before June's Paris Airshow.
Bregier said the weak euro would not have much short-term impact on Airbus due to hedging, but that it would provide immediate benefits to small export-oriented parts suppliers.
Some of those smaller companies in the supply chain may stop offshoring work to cheaper locations and start repatriating work to Europe as a result of currency moves, he added.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sophie Walker)