Airbus acts as catalyst in the ‘Camelina’ sustainable bio-kerosene jet-fuel project.
Airbus along with Tarom Romanian Air Transport and a consortium of key stakeholders have established one of Europe’s first projects aiming to establish a sustainable bio-kerosene jet-fuel processing and production capability. Airbus/handout

European planemaker Airbus celebrated a surprise win in the annual orders race against Boeing with the 10,000th plane sale in its 40-year history, part of a $5 billion order from Virgin America.

Last-minute orders for 200 planes in December pushed Airbus past its U.S. rival for a third year. Both aircraft makers are flying high on demand from emerging economies and low-cost airlines and a shift toward less fuel-thirsty jets.

Boeing, whose net orders were hit by cancellations in 2009 due to delays to its 787 Dreamliner, bounced back in 2010. But Airbus still managed a 52 percent market share.

EADS subsidiary Airbus said on Monday it sold 644 planes worth over $84 billion at list prices in 2010, 19 more than Boeing. For the eighth year running, Airbus also delivered more planes than its U.S. rival, hitting a company record of 510, while Boeing deliveries fell 4 percent to 462.

Aircraft manufacturers only get paid on delivery, usually at least 18 months after purchase.

After cancellations, 2010 net orders at Airbus were 574 against 530 planes for Boeing.

Both companies have been recovering from an industry recession which saw combined demand for their planes fall by more than two thirds in 2009 as passenger and cargo air traffic plummeted.

Rising air travel in fast-growing economies and a drive for more fuel-efficient aircraft has since spurred a revival in demand. Planemakers boast thousands of orders, potentially including the world's largest by volume from India's IndiGo.

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.

Although planemakers often sell at a discount to their catalog prices, Leahy said both revenues and pricing were improving as Airbus hit around 30 billion euros of turnover in 2010. Parent EADS will report full figures in March.

Against this rosier backdrop, the only negative was oil prices, Leahy said. Airbus is also struggling to pare back excess production costs for its A380 superjumbo, which threatens to soak up resources needed for other key development projects.

Airbus said it would hire 3,000 people in 2011, half of which will be new staff as it starts assembly of the future A350, a rival to Boeing's Dreamliner.

Airbus's late spree included the first firm purchase of a revamped A320 passenger jet, the A320neo, by Richard Branson's California-based low-cost airline Virgin America.

The British entrepreneur, on crutches after a skiing injury, was in Toulouse to mark the 10,000th order in Airbus's history. Boeing has sold 20,663 commercial planes since January 1958, the first month for which records are available on its website.


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.

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.

Enders said Airbus was mulling another increase in targeted wide-body production to 10 a month from nine. Demand for the A330, one such plane, has been buoyed by delays to Boeing's futuristic, fuel-saving Dreamliner.

(Writing by Alexander Smith; Editing by Sophie Walker and David Cowell)