PARIS (Reuters) - European planemaker Airbus expects to sign orders for hundreds of passengers jets at next week's Paris Airshow, the head of parent company EADS said on Thursday.
Chief Executive Tom Enders's remarks came on the eve of the first flight of the company's newest jet, the A350, which he described as a dynamo for tens of thousands of European jobs.
Enders said Airbus would not repeat the "exceptional" tally of more than 700 orders seen at the Paris Airshow two years ago, but he became the latest top executive to underscore resilient demand as airlines worldwide modernize their fleets.
"We should be good for a couple of hundred Airbus orders," he told journalists in Paris, then clarified that he expected "a few hundred orders."
Airbus dropped behind arch-rival Boeing in the order race last year but pulled back into the lead in the first quarter.
Boeing this week played down expectations for a large batch of orders at the June 17-23 Paris Airshow, saying it put less emphasis on such events.
Enders said he was "confident" next week's order announcements would include business for the A350, which industry sources have said may make a flypast at the show.
Europe's newest passenger jet competes with Boeing's lightweight 787 Dreamliner, built mainly from lightweight composites, as well as the older but larger, metallic 777.
Enders said the A350 remained an "immensely challenging" program but added it was in "good shape."
But he stressed much work remained to test and certify the 300-seat jet. "The real work starts tomorrow," he added.
Enders said EADS expected in the summer to complete a strategy review triggered by the failure to carry out a merger with Britain's BAE Systems in 2012.
He denied speculation that EADS could sell its Cassidian defense arm to focus on Airbus and its helicopter unit.
But he said defense would be at the heart of the review, which is designed to plot the direction of the world's second-largest aerospace group over the coming decade.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Leila Abboud and John Wallace)