Airbus took in a record number of orders for new commercial aircraft last year as strong demand for its revamped single-aisle plane helped it best U.S. rival Boeing Co. in the race for orders for the fourth year running.
The European jet maker said Tuesday that it took in 1,419 net new orders in 2011, worth $140 billion, well above Boeing's total of 805 aircraft. That topped the previous record of 1,413 net orders recorded by Boeingin 2007.
Airbus also delivered 534 aircraft last year, up from 510 a year earlier and keeping the title of world's biggest jet maker that it has held since 2003. Boeing delivered 477 aircraft in 2011.
For this year, Airbus targets around 570 jet deliveries, including about 30 of its A380 super jumbo, the world's largest commercial jet.
Louis Gallois, the CEO of Airbus parent company EADS, said 2011 revenue will be "nicely above" the €45.8 billion recorded in 2010. EADS reports its 2011 earnings in early March.
Gallois is due to retire in May but the EADS executive declined to comment on his succession plans. He spoke more freely about the ongoing European financial crisis, saying that the credit downgrades of nine European countries including France by rating agency Standard & Poor's last week "is only making things more complex."
"We need stronger and faster European coordination to solve the crisis," Gallois said. He offered up Airbus and EADS as an example for European leaders to draw on. "We are more than a symbol of European integration. We are the part of Europe that works," Gallois said.
That comment will possibly strike some observers as ironic, given the group's history of Franco-German management tensions and the difficult development of its A380 super jumbo, which was delayed by years and massively over budget due to engineering problems between the group's French and German work forces.
Airbus' recent success has been based on its revamped single aisle jet the A320neo.
It's a modified version of the existing workhorse jet, the A320, with improved engines and modified wingtips to make it allegedly 15 percent more fuel-efficient than Boeing's 737.
The plane will only start delivering in 2015 but Airbus is using it now to cash in on airlines' need to reduce sky-high fuel costs and cut carbon dioxide emissions.
The jet maker took in 1,226 net orders for the A320neo in 2011, including a single order for 200 of the aircraft worth $18.5 billion from Malaysian budget airline AirAsia.
Airbus' top salesman John Leahy said that the jet maker expects total orders to fall to between 600 and 650 aircraft this year, including the A320neo, after Boeing responded with a new version of its best-selling 737 model with a new engine, which it calls the 737 max.
Southwest Airlines Co. will be the first recipient of Boeing's new plane, representing the biggest firm order in the company's history by number of planes — 208 — and by list-price value, at nearly $19 billion.
Leahy cautioned that competition from Boeing's revamped 737 could unseat Airbus from its leadership in the orders race this year. After a market share of new orders of 64 percent last year, "in 2012 we will be down around 50 percent or probably lower than that," Leahy told reporters at the company's annual New Year's news conference.
Airbus is by far the largest part of EADS, which also encompasses the Astrium satellite builder and Cassidian defence electronics contractor. Troubles in developing and launching new aircraft programs like the A350 wide-body long-range jet and the A400M military transporter have squeezed the group's profitability for years, but Gallois promised improving results starting this year.
"We will see significantly better profitability as soon as 2012," Gallois said, thanks to Airbus efforts to get its troubled programs back on track. Higher deliveries, stronger pricing and cost savings across all of EADS' divisions will also help lift the group's profitability, Gallois said.