Airbus saw revenues from its commercial airliners unit rise by 12% year on year to €7.5 billion ($9.5 billion) for the first quarter of 2012, mainly driven by increased deliveries, but admits that the A350 XWB development remains "very challenging".

Airbus earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) for commercial airliners rose by 17% to €146 million, parent company EADS Group said in a statement.

During the first quarter, Airbus commercial enjoyed an order intake of €7.5 billion, double its order intake a year ago. Nonetheless, its overall order book fell by 3% year on year to €460 billion.

For the first three months of the year, Airbus commercial enjoyed 90 net orders compared with a single net order for the first three months of 2011. It also delivered the 5,000th A320 family aircraft during the period.

Moreover, it raised the production rate of its A320 family aircraft to 40 from 38 per month owing to continued orders for the A320neo, including a 100 aircraft order by Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Ecuador's AviancaTaca, US carrier Spirit Airlines, and Kuwaiti lessor ALAFCO also confirmed previous memorandums of understanding for both the A320 and A320neo.

Airbus added that it delivered four A380s in the first three months of 2012, equalling deliveries of the type in the first quarter of 2011. By the end of March 2012, seven carriers were operating a total of 71 A380s.

"The A350 XWB programme is advancing," said EADS. "In early April, Airbus started with the final assembly of the first A350 XWB airframe, in line with the schedule. As Airbus progresses towards the next milestones, the programme remains very challenging."

Looking forward, EADS expects Airbus commercial to deliver around 570 commercial aircraft in 2012, which should include 30 A380s. "Gross orders should be above the number of deliveries," it says.

As for the EADS Group overall, its 2012 first quarter revenue was at €11.4 billion, up by 16% year on year. Its EBIT rose by 79% to €343 million.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news