Airbus and Boeing compete for being number one

A December sales surge kept Airbus on top of the global passenger jet market in 2005, the company said Tuesday bettering Boeing Co.'s orders and deliveries in a record year by both measures. But Airbus also conceded it had lost ground to Boeing in the market for larger, more technically equipped planes and said it plans to review its A340 jet in the wake of disappointing sales.

Airbus announced 1,055 net orders for 2005, beating its U.S. rival's 1,002, and delivered 378 airliners to Boeing's 290. Excluding cancellations, the Airbus tally came to 1,111 orders, the largest number ever booked either side of the Atlantic.

The Airbus figures defied predictions that the European plane maker would lose the lead in orders that it took from Boeing in 2001, two years before it pulled ahead on deliveries. In the 11 months to November 30, Airbus had reported 687 firm orders.

"We had a very busy December," Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert said at a briefing before Tuesday's announcement.

The final figures include China's order for 150 jets from the single-aisle A320 family, unveiled during a visit to Paris last month by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao upstaging a Boeing deal the previous month to sell 70 737s to China.

In longer-range, wide-bodied planes, however, it is Airbus that has struggled to keep up. Boeing sold 455 such jets last year, representing 44 percent of its total orders. Airbus took orders for 193 of the larger planes, or 17 percent of its total with the rest made up of single-aisle planes that are typically less profitable. As a result, Boeing won the larger share of the overall market by order value in 2005, Humbert said. "As far as we see it, Boeing has 55 percent in value and we have 45 percent in value, although we are leading in the number of aircraft," he said.

Humbert also indicated that the A340 is under review. The four-engine jet which flies 380 passengers up to 7,500 nautical miles (13,900 kilometers) in the largest of its three versions had won only 15 orders as of Nov. 30. Boeing last year won 154 orders for its competing jet, the twin-engine 777.

"We can and will do better in the long-range field," Humbert said, while stressing that no decision had been taken. "If we think something has to be done then I will act very quickly, but nothing is on the table," he said.

Orders for the long-range, fuel-efficient A350 which enters service in 2010, two years after the competing Boeing 787 Dreamliner fell 28 short of the 200 target for the end of 2005. And Airbus is not expecting any slew of new A380 sales until the superjumbo's entry into commercial service, scheduled for the end of 2006 with Singapore Airlines Ltd.

Airbus said Tuesday its revenue increased 8.8 percent to 22.3 billion euros (US$27 billion) in 2005, an all-time high. Return on sales earnings before interest and taxes, or EBIT, as a share of revenue rose to above 10 percent from about 9.5 percent in 2004, Humbert said, implying that EBIT rose by about 15 percent to 2.2 billion euros (US$2.7 billion). Full financial results are to be announced by Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. in coming weeks.

The Airbus order figure beats the previous all-time record of 1,095 gross orders booked by Boeing and McDonnell Douglas in 1989, eight years before the two companies merged. It also increases Airbus' order backlog to 2,177 aircraft, which amounts to 55 percent of the global order book by number.

Having sold the planes, Airbus now has to build thema feat that will require production to be increased rapidly to unprecedented levels. Airbus plans to raise its monthly output of single-aisle jets to 30 this year and 32 early in 2007 from the current 28.5, and is already rallying its 600 front-line suppliers to anticipate the surge.

Airbus will place a "special focus on supply chain management" in 2006, Humbert said. "It is, for sure, a constant battle it's not easy for the supply chain to ramp up like this, reports the AP.


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