TOULOUSE, France: European group Airbus lost the crown of the world’s biggest maker of airliners to US giant Boeing last year, but did better than expected and sees big sales this year, it said yesterday.
Publishing results just as Boeing was hit by a crisis of confidence in its 787 Dreamliner plane following a series of incidents, Airbus said that last year it delivered 588 aircraft to 89 customers, a record after 534 deliveries in 2011.
The company said that its catalogue prices had climbed by an average of 3.6 percent since January 1 in light of the fuel savings that clients could expect from the use of lighter composite materials and new wing designs.
Airplane orders are almost always negotiated at a discount to the catalogue price.
Sales of the flagship superjumbo A380, the biggest passenger airliner in the world, disappointed last year, coming in at about one third of the target figure after a problem was discovered with tiny cracks in the wings which Airbus says have now been resolved.
Airbus sold a total of 833 aircraft last year, far more than the initial target figure of 650, chief executive Fabrice Bregier told a press conference near where Airbus is based at Toulouse, southern France.
However, the sales figure was far lower than the record of 1,419 sales in 2011.
Boeing delivered 601 airliners last year and took 1,203 orders.
For this year, Airbus expects to take 700 orders, excluding any cancellations, and to deliver more than 600 planes.
The order book now total 4,682 planes, representing about eight years of production work.
First deliveries of the A400M military transport plane to the French air force were on track for the second quarter of the year, Bregier said, after a consortium that makes its engines scrambled in November to resolve residual problems.
Airbus said that it also hoped its new long-range A350 aircraft would make its maiden flight in late June or early July.
Referring to the A350, Bregier said: “We have made reasonably good progress but I will keep cautious until the end.”
He added that Airbus would track a probe by the US Federal Aviation Administration into problems with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, a rival of the A350, to determine its potential effect on the Airbus plane.
Bregier voiced support for Boeing, saying he hoped that 787s which were grounded this week would soon be back in the air.
“A plane is designed to fly. Even if a good 787 flies we have good solutions to face it. I don’t bet on the difficulties of a competitor,” he said.
As for the A350’s target of a maiden flight in June or July, “we are not optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic,” Bregier said.
Of Airbus’ 833 net orders last year, 739 were for medium-range A320-type airliners, popular with low-cost airlines, including 478 for the fuel-efficient “neo” version set to take to the skies in 2015. The orders also comprised 58 long-haul A330 aircraft and 27 of the future A350.
Airbus booked orders for nine of its A380 superjumbo aircraft.
Bregier said that Airbus, the main unit of the giant European aerospace group EADS, had exceeded its targets in terms of new orders booked and of completed aircraft delivered, even though sales of the superjumbo had underperformed.
Airbus had counted on selling 30 of the superjumbos but this target was knocked off course by the discovery of micro-cracks in the wings which cooled some customer interest.
Bregier said the problem had been “resolved” and that he expected Airbus to take 25 orders and to deliver 25 of the enormous aircraft this year.
Referring to the position of Airbus in the global market and to the “neo” version, Bregier observed: “When we do better than expected we can be satisfied. When we see we are still in the leading position on the neo market, we can be satisfied.”
In view of the rapid growth, the airline has recruited a net number of 7,000 people in the last two years, hiring 10,000 while 3,000 have left.
The company now employs 59,000 people and expects to recruit another 3,000 this year.
This is in contrast to many big French companies which are restructuring with job cuts as the economy as a whole struggles to boost its export performance.
The Airbus aircraft are built mainly in Germany, Britain and Spain, and in France where they are assembled in Toulouse.