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Originally published January 17, 2011 at 5:29 PM | Page modified January 18, 2011 at 6:48 AM

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Airbus tops Boeing in orders and deliveries

Year-end figures from the two plane makers show Boeing has plenty to do in 2011 to keep up with Airbus.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Despite Boeing's struggles with the 787 Dreamliner, a very profitable year for the airlines helped the company's 2010 sales turn out much better than expected.

But Airbus, which also had production woes on new programs, had an even better sales year.

The European company Monday released 2010 figures that show it beat Boeing in both airplane deliveries and orders. The numbers confirmed — by a slender margin — Airbus' standing as the world's No. 1 plane maker.

The figures included two details that point to 2011 as a pivotal year for Boeing:

• With further 787 Dreamliner sales in limbo because of program delays extending to three years, Airbus reversed the patten of recent years and beat Boeing handily in wide-body-jet sales.

• And as part of its typical end-of-year sales dash, Airbus bagged the first firm order — from Virgin America — for the new A320neo, a re-engined version of the single-aisle jet set to debut in 2016.

Those developments mean that, if Boeing is to keep up with its European nemesis in 2011, the Chicago-based company must not only deliver its Dreamliner but also sell more 777 wide-bodies and decide on a response to the gathering sales momentum of the A320neo.

Airbus finished 2010 with 574 net new orders, compared with 530 for Boeing. That's the third consecutive year Airbus sales have outpaced Boeing's.

Factoring in order cancellations, Airbus sold a net 158 wide-bodies to Boeing's 44.

"2010 was a good year," Airbus CEO Tom Enders said in a statement. "The market rebound and improved programme performance has been particularly encouraging."

Airbus' 2010 sales were worth $74 billion at list prices, although data provided by aircraft-valuation firm Avitas show the actual market value after standard discounts is about $39 billion.

Based on the same Avitas valuations, Boeing's sales tally was about $30 billion.

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Airbus' net-order total was reduced by cancellations of 70 jet orders from previous years, compared with 95 such cancellations for Boeing.

The European jet maker also beat its U.S. rival on the number of commercial aircraft built, as it has done every year since 2003.

Airbus delivered 510 jets to Boeing's 462.

Of 401 single-aisle airplanes Airbus delivered, 26 rolled off its newest final-assembly line in Tianjin, China.

Boeing's only consolation is that the larger number of Airbus jets rolling out was balanced in dollar value by Boeing's slight pricing advantage for single-aisle jets and by the buzzing Everett wide-body production line that rolled out the expensive 777s.

After standard pricing discounts, the total dollar value of the 2010 deliveries is about $30 billion for each company. Enders projected even higher deliveries this year as production of the A320 is ramped up and said orders in 2011 again should outstrip deliveries.

Randy Tinseth, Boeing's vice president of marketing, insisted Monday that the competitive rivalry remains close to a 50-50 split.

Tinseth said that, because of the enormous backlog on the 787 Dreamliner, with few open delivery slots before the end of the decade, new sales for that jet likely will be slow in coming.

So Boeing is ratcheting up production of the larger 777 to seven jets a month by midyear and again to more than eight a month in 2013 to fill near-term market demand for wide-bodies, he said.

"That airplane is going to be an important part of our strategy," Tinseth said.

Yet, the planned ramp-up also highlights the dire need for solid 777 sales in the next couple of years.

Boeing won 46 net orders for the 777 last year. And aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group notes that the current 777 backlog of 253 unfilled orders "barely gets you to 2013."

Selling 777s in the large numbers needed "is going to be an uphill battle," Aboulafia said. Unlike new jet programs, he said, a mature jet like the 777 is doing well to sell in orders of 10 or so at a time.

Equally pivotal in 2011, Aboulafia said, will be Boeing's decision on how to respond to the A320neo. Tinseth insisted Boeing has lots of time to decide whether to re-engine the 737 or commit to an all-new single-aisle jet toward the end of this decade.

But Airbus announced Monday that Virgin America had firmed up its order for 60 A320s announced at the Farnborough Air Show in July, and upgraded half to A320neos.

And low-cost Indian carrier IndiGo committed last week to buying 150 A320neos between 2016 and 2022.

"Airbus did the right thing," Aboulafia said. "There's a very good chance Boeing will have to act faster than it would like. A big chunk of the market seems to be seeing things the Airbus way with regard to the neo."

Aboulafia said he believes Airbus inevitably will move beyond selling A320neos to existing customers and begin stealing market share by persuading a Boeing 737 customer to defect.

"They haven't done it yet, but they will," he said. "Using neo to grab market share would instantly force Boeing to rethink. They wouldn't have a choice.

"Unless Boeing gets moving, I'd bet on Airbus winning in 2011, too."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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