Airbus Industrie's net profits have been stated officially for the first time, with a line in the Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa)annual report showing the consortium made a healthy return of around $700 million for 1996.

Although Airbus prepares full accounts for its four partners, only the sales figures have ever been released. In its latest accounts, however, Dasa appears to have ended the mystery.

Airbus offers no official comment on the Dasa report, but sources within the consortium say that it appears to in line with the internal figures.

The Dasa figure, which has been released at a crucial time in the Airbus restructuring negotiations, appears to confirm upbeat estimates already being circulated by analysts and informal press comments. The figures also show that 1996's profit was up by more than $100 million on 1995, despite a fall in Airbus sales, which slipped from $9.6 billion down to $8.8 billion because of the greater number of lower-cost narrowbodies.

The figures would give the consortium a robust 8% profit margin, which is in line with the earnings being shown by Boeing on its commercial aircraft business - although the complexity of the Airbus consortium accounts makes direct comparisons problematic.

In a major report on the Airbus restructuring towards the end of 1996, US investment bank Lehman Brothers says that the consortium's profitability has been consistently underestimated and that its manufacturing performance is not lagging Boeing "by any significant degree". It estimates that by 2000 Airbus could be turning in underlying operating profits, excluding research and launch-aid repayments, of $3-3.5 billion on sales of $17-18 billion.

Dasa's annual report also reveals that its slimmed-down Dasa Airbus subsidiary shot to profits of DM1.4 billion ($814 million) in 1996, helped by the cost-cutting measures, alongside the production build-up and the partial sale of Fokker inventories. Sales were at DM3.4 billion.

Aerospatiale also showed a 10%rise in returns from its Airbus work in 1996, taking operating profits to nearly Fr1.2 billion ($200 million). British Aerospace does not split out its Airbus work, but the positive cash flow figure of £80 million ($130 million) gives some guide to the unit's profitability.

Boeing disappointed analysts with a lower-than-expected profit for the March quarter. Sales for the period, which is the first full quarter after the Rockwell defence and space acquisition, soared by more than 70% at $7.3 billion.

Profits also rose steeply to $313 million, but were below expectations because of a $50 million rise in research and development spending. Analysts, however, believe that full-year forecasts will be met.

Source: Flight International