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Airbus takes sales past five figures

Airbus spent its first 33 years building 5,000 orders on its books, but took only six more years to duplicate that level of sales and push its gross total into five figures in the final two days of 2010.

Although that round number is aesthetically pleasing, it is hardly a meaningful indication of Airbus's competitive achievements compared with Boeing, whose 737 range alone has exceeded 8,800 sales.

But the rivals' figures over the second half of the decade show they remain evenly matched. Just a few tens of airframes separate their cumulative narrowbody and widebody totals since 2006, although Airbus has easily overtaken Boeing in the widebody market for the past three years as the delay-hit 787's orderbooks have stagnated.


Neither airframer can genuinely claim to have had the upper hand in the narrowbody tussle, but 2011 begins with a different competitive stand-off after Airbus's opening gambit - shifting away from the comfortable position enjoyed by the A320 to develop the re-engined A320neo.

Boeing has yet to set out a firm counter-position, but Commercial Airplanes chief Jim Albaugh says: "We cannot come up with a very compelling argument at this point to do the re-engining, but we will continue to look at it."

Airbus tends to mount a late charge in December. In six of the past 10 years, the final month has accounted for more than 20% of its gross sales. In 2010 it made up nearly one-third of the annual total - largely because of finalised A320-family agreements with Virgin America, LAN and China's state import company - taking Airbus to 644 gross and 574 net orders. Boeing declared a net haul of 530.

In terms of net order revenues, Airbus's sales took a 59% share, a total of $74.6 billion. The airframer also exceeded its previous delivery record of 498, set in 2009, by handing over 510 aircraft - although this remains more than 100 short of Boeing's historical best of 620 in 1999.

Boeing delivered 462 aircraft in 2010, taking the two main suppliers' output to 972, just seven airframes down on their 2009 deliveries, the second-highest combined figure for the decade.

Airbus's chief operating officer for customers John Leahy shrugs off the pessimistic outlook that he says was prevalent a year ago.

"A lot of experts in the industry were talking about a 30% reduction in our production and Boeing's production, and that it was inevitable there was going to be a double-dip recession," he says.

Even the International Air Transport Association "was predicting the airlines would have the worst year they had ever had in the history of international aviation", Leahy adds. "Well, none of that turned out to be right."

Leahy says the industry is "resilient" and is "coming back". The airframer is predicting 3.5% GDP growth this year and 3.6% in 2012, although - no doubt with a certain amount of self-interest, given its commitment to the A320neo - it has issued a dismal outlook on fuel prices, forecasting that oil will average more than $100 a barrel in 2012.

Boeing's 737 line put in a strong performance in 2010, with 486 net orders, bouncing back to the level of 2008. Airbus's popular A320 range - albeit with no customers for the A318 - secured 416 orders.

But Airbus overshadowed its rival in the widebody market, with only Boeing's 777 making any significant ground with 46 net orders. Even the late cancellation of 18 A330s, by customers including US Airways, and negligible sales for the A340 failed to make much difference to Airbus's domination of the sector in 2010.

It booked 62 net A330 sales and 63 A350s, taking its overall A350 order total to 583. Although this is still far short of the 847 racked up by Boeing's 787, the US twinjet - which has suffered yet another delivery delay, putting it three years behind schedule - ended the year with a net order deficit of four airframes.

Leahy could not resist offering an acerbic comment on the situation as he detailed Airbus's widebody performance: "That is not something we did to Boeing; that is something Boeing did to themselves."

Boeing's 747, another programme beset by schedule difficulties, also failed to make headway over the year, recording just a single gross sale. Emirates was the only customer for Airbus's high-capacity A380, but its firm agreement for 32 would have relieved the pressure on the manufacturer.

Airbus expects to set another output record this year with 520-530 commercial aircraft deliveries and a book-to-bill ratio greater than unity, says chief executive Tom Enders.

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