January 12, 2016 / 9:40 AM / 2 years ago

Airbus shrugs off China concerns after outselling Boeing

People are silhouetted past a logo of the Airbus Group during the Airbus annual news conference in Colomiers, near Toulouse January 13, 2015.Regis Duvignau

PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's Airbus is unperturbed by China's financial turmoil, sticking to robust demand forecasts on Tuesday after beating arch-rival Boeing in the annual tally of global aircraft orders, despite failing to close a gap on total deliveries with the world's largest jetmaker.

As share prices and oil prices steadied after weeks of volatility, Airbus maintained its confidence in demand that underpins plans for record production rates at both companies.

Despite a recent sell-off in markets in China, where Airbus has an assembly plant, the Chinese continue to spend on aviation, planemaking chief Fabrice Bregier said.

"It’s a sign that the vision you have that share prices drop and everything collapses is disconnected from the real economy, he said at the company's annual news conference.

Swelling its total order book to a record $1 trillion, Airbus added 1,036 new plane orders net of cancellations last year, down 29 percent from 2014, compared with Boeing's tally of 768, a fall of 46 percent. (Graphic: reut.rs/1P2W6fI)

Both planemakers experienced a slowdown after two years of heavy orders, and amid concerns over the impact of economic jitters and low oil prices on demand for fuel-saving jets.

Despite that, deliveries of popular models grew, reflecting industry forecasts of persistent growth in traffic.

Airbus deliveries edged up to 635 in 2015 and it predicted over 650 in 2016, to be outstripped once again by new orders.

Boeing said last week its deliveries rose 5 percent to a record 762 jets, extending its lead as the largest producer.

Combined deliveries came in a whisker below 1,400, having doubled in the past decade, and Airbus planemaking chief Fabrice Bregier said the latest data showed the market was "resilient".

Airlines "do not expect oil prices to stay low forever," he said.

A350 REJIG

However, Airbus dropped to its lowest overall share of deliveries against Boeing - 45 percent - since 2002, and its lowest share of wide-body deliveries - 35 percent - since 2001, after its rival pumped up deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus expects to close the gap with its competing A350, but deliveries have started gently due to industry-wide cabin supply problems and the European firm's determination to avoid a repeat of industrial problems that beset Boeing's 787 and its own A380.

Airbus argued underlying deliveries were about the same as Boeing's, disregarding differences of timing between increases in production of the latest generation of lightweight jets.

Airbus is considering launching a bigger A350 at this year's Farnborough Airshow to loosen Boeing's grip on the promising 400-seat market with its revamped 777X, but faces problems in securing demand for the even bigger A380.

In a boost to the 544-seat passenger jet, Airbus said it had won three A380 orders from a "global leading airline".

Japan's Nikkei reported this month Japan's biggest carrier ANA Holdings Inc (9202.T) was set to place such an order.

As planemakers target more production increases, tensions meanwhile surfaced between Airbus and some of its top suppliers.

Sales chief John Leahy blamed U.S. engine maker Pratt & Whitney for a delay in first delivery of the A320neo, while Bregier told France's Zodiac Aerospace to pull up its socks following seat production delays.

Airbus missed its target for 15 A350 deliveries in 2015 by one plane after shortages in cabin equipment. It expects to deliver "at least 50" of the new jets in 2016.

It is meanwhile expressing greater optimism about demand for the A330, an aging wide-body model seen by investors as a key source of cash and which is in the process of being upgraded.

Having decided to cut production of the A330 from 10 to six aircraft a month to ensure a smooth transition, Airbus is now looking at whether to go down to seven to eight a month, Leahy said.

Programmes chief Didier Evrard told Reuters a decision would be taken in the coming months, probably in the first quarter.

Editing by James Regan, Greg Mahlich

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