Toulouse, France: European group Airbus lost its top spot as the world’s biggest maker of airliners to the US giant Boeing last year, but did better than expected and sees big sales this year, it said on Thursday.
Publishing results just as Boeing is hit by a crisis of confidence in its Dreamliner plane after a series of incidents, Airbus said that last year it delivered 588 aircraft to 89 customers, a record after 534 deliveries in 2011.
But sales of the flagship superjumbo A380, the biggest airliner in the world, disappointed, coming in at about one third of the target figure after a problem was discovered with the wings which the company says is now behind it.
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.
Airbus said that it hoped that its new long-range A350 aircraft would make its maiden flight at the end of June or beginning of July.
Referring to the A350, Bregier said: “We have made reasonable good progress but I will keep cautious until the end.
Superjumbo wing problem
“For the first flight, we expect it by mid of this year which is a big milestone, mid means end of June or early July...We are not optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic.”
He added: “I’m very humble. Lots of risks are behind us but I’m interested in what is in front (of us).”
Of the 833 net orders last year, allowing for 81 cancellations, 739 were for medium-range A320-type airliners, popular with low-cost airlines, and of those 478 were for the “neo” version with new more fuel-efficient engines. The orders also comprised 58 long-haul A330 aircraft and 27 of the future A350.
Airbus booked orders for nine of its A380 superjumbo jetliners.
Bregier said that Airbus, the main part of the giant European EADS aerospace group, 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 that this problem had been “resolved” and said he expected that this year the company would take 25 orders and would also deliver 25 of the enormous aircraft.
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 neo market, we can be satisfied.”
He said: “We started earlier with a good product. If we do the right job and I plan to do the right job, it’s a huge advantage.”
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 for normal reasons.
The company cut 10,000 jobs between 2007 and 2009 as it restructured after a severe crisis over delays to the superjumbo programme which revealed weaknesses in the industrial workflow system.
The company now employs 59,000 people and expects to recruit 3,000 this year.
This is in contrast to many substantial employers in France which are restructuring with big job cuts, and the economy as a whole is struggling to boost its export performance and raise the niche speciality of its industrial products.
The Airbus aircraft are built mainly in Germany, Britain and Spain, and in France where they are assembled in Toulouse.