Airbus sales chief John Leahy is riled at the notion that Boeing is rebounding. So yesterday at the Paris Air Show, he offered a forecast...

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PARIS — Airbus sales chief John Leahy is riled at the notion that Boeing is rebounding. So yesterday at the Paris Air Show, he offered a forecast for 2005 sales.

“OK, I’ll make a prediction,” he said. “We’ll beat them.”

Airbus has won more orders than Boeing for the past four years, but this year Boeing held a 58-42 percent lead in firm orders going into the air show.

Leahy dismissed the talk of a Boeing revival as hype and scoffed at a report that the executives in the Boeing chalet were noticeably more excited this year.

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“Come on,” he said. “It’s Starbucks coffee.”

Leahy made his comments to a group of journalists in a dining area at the Airbus press chalet yesterday, where strong French coffee was served in small cups.

The run-up to Paris was difficult for Leahy, who suffered a burst appendix in April. Shortly afterward, key Airbus customers Air Canada and Northwest Airlines announced that they had chosen the 787 over the A350.

But Leahy shows no signs of wear.

On a day when Airbus had some big order successes to trumpet — the biggest was a $3 billion order from Kingfisher Airlines that included five A380 superjumbos and five of the new A350s — he was as suave and brash as ever.

Leahy said he had just come from pitching the A350 to Steven Udvar-Hazy, chairman and chief executive of International Lease Finance Corp.

Only yesterday at the show, Udvar-Hazy sang the praises of Boeing and said he was in intense negotiations to buy the 787. He also said he wouldn’t be buying the A350 anytime soon.

Leahy refused to accede to the chorus of skeptics who had heard Udvar-Hazy the day before.

Supersalesman Leahy thinks he can turn the ILFC executive, and he brooks no naysayers.

“We’ll see,” he said to the doubters. “If this job were easy, anybody could do it.”

Leahy talked first about the A380, the star attraction at the daily flying displays here.

He recounted how, at an elegant French lunch this week in a private dining room inside the main Airbus chalet, all the VIPs left their tables and ran out to the balcony to see the superjumbo fly.

“The chef was livid,” Leahy said.

He said that prospects for the huge jet look so good that Airbus may gradually raise the production rate to 50 per year. He also is confident on future A380 orders from Japanese and U.S. airlines. “Both United and Northwest will inevitably buy the airplane,” he said.

Leahy ended his coffee klatch by pouring scorn on the supposed aggression of the new Boeing sales team.

“They did a deal with Ryanair at the beginning of this year that must be attributable to the triple lattes,” he said.

He said that Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair and one of Boeing’s key customers, had come to him asking for an Airbus bid on a huge single-aisle order and offering to switch allegiance at the right price.

Leahy said he didn’t even make an offer, judging that O’Leary was only trying to pressure Boeing and wasn’t serious.

But he heard later, Leahy said, that O’Leary nonetheless had pretended that he did have an Airbus offer and was on the point of switching — and that Boeing had fallen for it.

Whether Leahy’s story is apocryphal or not, it is true that when Ryanair ordered 70 737s in January the airline did get a huge discount.

A Ryanair regulatory filing in April indicated that the carrier paid around $29 million each for 70 jets, less than half the public list price. Boeing also allowed Ryanair to apply the same discount to 89 jets O’Leary already had on order.

After finishing his O’Leary story, Leahy ran off to get back to Udvar-Hazy and the hard sell.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or