United Continental Holdings is contemplating an Airbus A380 order, and while a final deal will take some time, Airbus expects the U.S. airline to adopt the double-decker for its extensive Asian network.

Airbus Chief Operating Officer-Customer John Leahy, speaking with Aviation Week yesterday after a market forecast presentation in Washington, asserted that United President and CEO Jeffery Smisek has changed his previously held view that the widebody was inappropriate for U.S. operators and now saw possibilities for the A380 in the new United fleet.

However, the Airbus executive issued a caveat when pressed on a pending United deal, noting, “I’m not saying there is an order soon, but United understands that if it wants to have a major presence in Asia it needs the A380.”

Airbus considers Boeing 747 operators as likely A380 customers, and in North America that means United and Delta Air Lines are candidates. However, Delta is no longer a target, having told Airbus it wants to focus on smaller widebodies, says Leahy. “That leaves United as our target,” he added.

Despite its popularity in Asia and the Middle East, the A380 so far has failed to generate much interest in the Americas, with North American carriers favoring a high-frequency schedule using smaller aircraft and Latin operators simply aware that the region’s current infrastructure is insufficient for such a large-capacity aircraft. But Leahy is adamant that the A380 will be adopted in the region, especially in the U.S. as traffic demands outstrip efforts to upgrade the country’s air traffic control system.

“I flew into JFK [John F. Kennedy International Airport] and it looked pretty crowded,” Leahy said during the presentation, which predicts a doubling of U.S. and Canadian demand in the next 15 years. “Are we going to double movements? That is why we are offering our A380,” he noted.

Airbus’s 20-year forecast is optimistic that North American carriers will realize this predicament and order 206 ultra-widebody aircraft (i.e. the A380) between 2011 and 2031 to relieve some of the pressure being placed on the largest, namely U.S., airports. At the same time, the region’s operators are also expected to order 4,970 single-aisle aircraft with more than 100 seats and 1,140 twin-aisle aircraft, spending some $648 billion at list price.