Boeing Co., the world's second biggest commercial airplane manufacturer, said Wednesday its first quarter profit was better expected at $1.2 billion, a 38 per percent gain from last year as it increased deliveries to airlines and built a record backlog of orders.

The manufacturer topped Wall Street estimates, but its sales missed expectations. Boeing shares rose almost 2 percent in morning trading.

For the recent quarter, the Chicago-based manufacturer said net earnings rose to $1.21 billion, or $1.62 a share, from $877 million, or $1.13 a share, a year earlier.

Revenue rose 4 percent to $16 billion from $15.37 billion a year ago.

We're off to a good start in what we expect to be another strong year of financial performance for Boeing, Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney said in a statement.

We are methodically working through our challenges, including the start-up of the 787, and our people remain focused on satisfying our customers and leveraging growth and productivity into better bottom-line and top-line performance for our company.

The US aerospace giant, which has been plagued by delays of its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft, reaffirmed its 2008 earnings forecast between 5.70 and 5.85 dollars per share. Total orders for the 787 stood at 892 at the recent quarter's end.

Operating profits for Boeing's defense unit rose 10 percent to $860 million while revenue slipped 2 percent to $7.6 billion. The aerospace company said its total backlog reached a new record of $346 billion.

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines Inc., the nation's third-largest carrier, reported a steep loss of $6.39 billion on Wednesday, on soaring fuel prices and a steep decline in the company's market value.