updated 11/20/2006 11:50:37 AM ET 2006-11-20T16:50:37

Airbus plans to increase production of its A320 family of airliners, a company official said Monday, as the European aircraft maker bets on strong demand for its smaller planes to take the sting out of costly delays to its flagship A380 superjumbo.

Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon confirmed the plans, reported by the Wall Street Journal, which will see 32 of the single-aisle planes produced per month from January, instead of the 30 produced currently. Production will increase further to 34 planes per month in March 2008 and 36 by December that year.

Management approved the ramp-up at a meeting Friday, Dubon said. "The reason is that the backlog for A320 aircraft is so huge."

Before the increase was decided, the first delivery windows available to new customers were in 2010, Dubon said. Faster production will open up new slots well before that date.

Airbus officials acknowledge that the decision to crank up production involves some risk that suppliers will be unable to keep up.

But the Toulouse, France-based aircraft maker is seeking ways to make up for a two-year delay to its 555-seater A380 that is expected to wipe 4.8 billion euros ($6.1 billion) off the profit of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. over the next four years.

Airbus is also seeking the parent company's approval to launch the A350 XWB, a mid-sized airliner to rival Boeing Co.'s long-range, fuel-efficient 787. The new plane is expected to cost about 8 billion euros ($10 billion) to develop.

In 2005, Airbus won 918 orders in 2005 for its A320 family — which also includes the A318, A319 and A321 models — compared with 570 orders for Boeing's rival 737.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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