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Airbus and Boeing order race goes to the wire


Boeing has had its most successful year ever in 2005 in terms of orders, but Airbus could still beat its rival later this month if it firms a series of crucial commitments.

The US airframer released its year-end figures today (5 January) showing record gross orders of 1,029 for the year, with a net figure of 1,002, beating its 1988 previous best of 877 net orders. With the last official Airbus order total standing at 687 at the end of November, many are assuming Boeing will regain the net order supremacy it lost in 2001.

However, if the European manufacturer manages to finalise several very large orders, it could still squeak past Boeing, reaching as many as 1,084 gross orders. Data supplied by Flight International sister company AvSoft estimates the airframer had around 800 confirmed firm orders by the end of last year, but this tally could be bolstered with a further 280-odd orders from as-yet incomplete deals.

For example, there is uncertainty over a "general terms agreement " signed with Chinese state-owned import & export group CASGC for 150 aircraft destined for Chinese carriers, announced during a visit to Paris by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in early December. There are also question marks over whether a letter of intent for 70 A320s from aircraft lessor AerCap (formerly Debis AirFinance) has been firmed up. Similar uncertainty faces announcements for 60 A350s from Qatar Airways announced in June but yet to be made firm; and commitments from Finnair to acquire nine A350s and three A340s.

Lack of clarity over the orders makes Airbus's formal announcement of 2005 order totals, to take place on 17 January in Paris, a nail-biter. Only if Airbus manages to close the majority of the deals will it beat Boeing.

Boeing says it is happy with its figures, with 2005 marking a record year for the 737, 777 and 787 types. The order totals for the types were 569 for the 737, 154 for the 777 and 235 for the 787. Previous record totals for these programmes were 438 737s in 1996, 116 777s in 2000, and 56 787s in 2004. "Clearly, 2005 was an incredible year for our customers and for Boeing," says Alan Mulally, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive.

The gross order total for the year, before cancellations and order exchange deals are taken into acount, reached 1,029 gross, with 1,002 ending up as firm orders by the end of the year. The 2005 total surpasses the previous Boeing record in 1988, which included both Boeing and then-McDonnell Douglas totals. Full details are available from the Boeing website.

JUSTIN WASTNAGE / LONDON

Kieran Daly is going out on a limb with his prediction. Read his blog.

Make your own predictions in our online poll of total Airbus and Boeing 2005 gross orders.

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