European planemaker Airbus scored a surprise victory in the annual orders race against Boeing and celebrated the 10,000th plane sale in its 40-year history with a $5 billion order from Virgin America. A last-minute surge pushed Airbus past its U.S. rival for a third year as it held onto a net order market share of 52 percent in the face of a resurgent Boeing, which was hit by cancellations in 2009 due to delays to its 787 Dreamliner.
EADS subsidiary Airbus said it had sold 644 planes worth over $84 billion at list prices in 2010, beating Boeing’s total of 625 after a flood of 200 orders in December and demonstrating what it called a robust recovery in emerging markets and the low-fare sector.
“These figures show the economy is improving. We have dodged the bullet on a double-dip recession. Aviation is growing again because of Asia, low-cost carriers and emerging markets,” Airbus sales chief John Leahy told reporters on Monday.
“The only negative on the horizon is the fuel price.”
The December sales spree included the first firm purchase of a revamped model of its A320 passenger jet, the A320neo, by Richard Branson’s Virgin America, a low-cost airline based in California.
Limping on crutches after a skiing injury, the British entrepreneur staged a signing ceremony with Airbus executives for posterity, though the actual deal was concluded in secrecy at the end of December and helped pushed Airbus over the finishing line against Boeing.
The order is for 60 Airbus A320 jets including 30 A320neo aircraft with newer engines. The upgrade aims to prolong the life of Airbus’s best-selling model by offering 15 percent fuel savings for operators of the 150-seat, medium-distance plane.
The deal expands a provisional order announced at the Farnborough air show last July for 40 A320 single-aisle passenger planes, plus options for 20 more.Since then, Airbus has started offering the greener A320neo at a higher price.
Airbus last week announced the world’s largest potential plane order by volume from India’s IndiGo, including 150 A320neo jets, but that contract will be finalised probably in 2011.
Adjusting for cancellations, Airbus sold a net total of 574 planes worth $74 billion in 2010 compared with Boeing’s 530, giving the European firm a market share of 52 percent.
The orders were stronger than many analysts had predicted.
Industry sources, however, told Reuters last week Airbus was poised to pull off a surprise win in both net and gross orders as it approached the 10,000th order in its 40-year history, while remaining ahead on jetliner deliveries.
Boeing reported 625 gross orders and 530 net orders in 2010 after more than doubling its sales from 2009 when business was left floundering by the financial crisis.
Both firms more than doubled their order intake in 2010 as airlines staged a stronger-than-expected recovery. They share the commercial market for large airplanes with at least 100 seats but face challenges from Canada, China, Russia and Brazil.
For the eighth year running, Airbus delivered more planes than its U.S. rival. Its total of 510 deliveries, up from 498 in 2009, topped the 500 mark for the first time at Airbus.
Boeing deliveries fell 4 percent to 462 aircraft from 481.
Chief Executive Tom Enders said Airbus would increase commercial deliveries to 520-530 planes in 2011 and would sell more than it delivered, without giving a more precise goal.
“2010 has been better than we expected. We will look at 2011 more optimistically,” Enders said.
Airbus had total revenue of “around 30 billion euros” ($39.9 billion) in 2010, Enders said, up from 28,067 billion in 2009.
Planemakers get paid when jets are delivered, usually at least 18 months after they are bought and often longer.
Enders also said Airbus was mulling another increase in targeted wide-body production to 10 a month from nine. A330 demand has been buoyed by delays to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Airbus and Boeing are recovering from an industry recession which saw combined demand for their planes fall by more than two-thirds in 2009 as passenger and cargo traffic plummeted. There were still dozens of plane cancellations in 2010.
Boeing has sold 20,663 commercial planes since January 1958, the first month for which records are available on its website.
Both planemakers have thousands of planes on order.
The U.S. firm says Airbus was only able to succeed because of unfair European government subsidies, a charge EADS denies.
Both sides are airing mutual subsidy claims at the World Trade Organization.