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By Tim Hepher
TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - European jetmaker Airbus <EAD.PA> has raised its order target for 2013 to more than 1,000 aircraft, compared with a previous goal of over 800, sales chief John Leahy told Reuters on Friday.
The new target puts Airbus on course to beat its 2012 gross order tally of 914 aircraft, Leahy said on the sidelines of an event to mark the 1,000th delivery of an Airbus A330 aircraft.
Airbus is locked in a battle to regain leadership of the $100 billion annual jet market after arch-rival Boeing <BA.N> grabbed the top spot in both orders and deliveries last year.
So far it is Boeing that is winning this year's order race after reporting 859 gross orders between January 1 and mid-July, compared with an Airbus total of 758 in the first half.
But Airbus has a buffer of more than 100 orders that have been announced but not yet confirmed, and some industry sources say the amount of potential business in the pipeline suggests Airbus could quietly aim for closer to 1,200 orders for 2013.
Boeing has also been hit recently by fresh problems with its new 787 Dreamliner jet, which was grounded earlier this year after the overheating of lithium-ion back-up batteries and was hit earlier this month by a blaze on an aircraft in London.
Driven by emerging markets, commercial aerospace demand has been remarkably strong in the past 2-3 years, providing a haven for investors in a shaky global economy and prompting Airbus parent EADS to consider rebranding itself as Airbus Group.
Leahy said there were around half a dozen major campaigns in progress for the A330 passenger jet, which competes with Boeing's newer 787 Dreamliner for sales of 250-300 seat planes.
Airbus is producing the twin-engined passenger plane at a record 10 a month, but its undelivered backlog is equivalent to 2-3 years of production, which is less than some models.
Leahy said the company would keep producing the A330 beyond 2020 but dampened expectations that it would carry out tentative plans to increase production to 11 a month any time soon.
Airbus expects to keep producing 10 aircraft a month through 2015 at least, Leahy said.
Like its U.S. rival, European planemaker Airbus has invested heavily in carbon-composite technology to reduce weight and cut down fuel costs for its next model, the A350, but is also keen to prolong a renaissance for its 20-year-old A330.
Airbus delivered its 1,000th A330 passenger jet to Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific <0293.HK> in Toulouse on Friday.
It is the first European jet to enter the Millennium Club of wide-body passenger jets that have notched up over a thousand deliveries alongside Boeing's 747, 767 and 777.
Airbus says the plane is reliable and popular with lessors in a downturn when buyers are less willing to take risks.
But Boeing officials claim the A330's main selling point is its availability compared with the delayed 787 Dreamliner and say it will inevitably be overtaken by the more modern jet.
Leahy said Airbus was working on a regional version of the A330 designed for shorter trips in high-density markets like Southeast Asia, mirroring plans for a similar regional version for the A350 first reported by Reuters last month.
A decision on whether to develop the new A330 version is expected before the end of the year, Leahy said.
(Editing by Mark Potter)