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Airbus leads Boeing in race for orders

  Airbus sold three planes and won upgraded orders for five more in April, maintaining a lead over Boeing in a race for new business that has collapsed in the past year as airlines face a demand crisis compounded recently by swine flu.

The European planemaker said on Thursday it had sold an unadjusted total of 8 wide-body aircraft in April and none of the single-haul A320-family jets that make up the backbone of many airline fleets in competition with the Boeing 737.

The 8 aircraft sold include 5 A350 XWBs for India’s Kingfisher Airlines but these were offset in the order book by the cancellation of 5 orders by the same airline for an earlier model of the A350 that never went into development.

Airbus sold 3 A330s worth $181 million each at list prices.

These included one to International Lease Finance Corp, traditionally one of the world’s largest aircraft buyers which has been largely sidelined as parent AIG, the troubled US insurer, seeks a buyer for ILFC to help repay federal aid.

The April tally means that Airbus has so far this year sold a net total of 11 planes after cancellations for 19 aircraft.

The planemaker, a subsidiary of European aerospace group EADS, leads a glacier-paced race for orders against Boeing which reported 7 net orders up to April 28. The US company is due to update its order book later on Thursday.

PRODUCTION CUTS

New business has plummeted 97% since the same point last year when Airbus had already sold a net 397 aircraft. Both Airbus and Boeing ended 2008 with record backlogs of some 4,000 planes apiece but face the prospect of cancellations and forced cuts in output as travel and cargo demand slumps.

Airlines body IATA warned last week that swine flu would worsen problems for airlines, already hard hit by the global crisis which pushed passenger travel down 11.1% in March.

The disease was reported in Mexico in the last week of April and began spreading worldwide. Many airlines had already deferred plans to renew their fleets as they focus on a battle for market share and survival.

Finland’s Finnair said on Thursday there was an accelerated fall in fares to attract passengers.

On Wednesday, Airbus announced a cut in planned deliveries for its flagship A380 superjumbo, saying airlines were requesting deferrals due to the drop in demand. However it repeated it would deliver about the same number of aircraft overall in 2009 as last year’s record 483.

In February, Airbus said it would cut A320-family single-aisle production to 34 a month from 36 in October. Airbus said on Thursday it had delivered 46 aircraft in April, bringing the total so far this year to 162.

EADS shares rose 1.5% in line with a firmer market. Boeing said last month output of its 777 wide-body jet would fall to five planes a month from seven starting in June 2010.

Kingfisher’s decision to upgrade closes an awkward chapter for Airbus after its original blueprint for the A350 proved unpopular compared with Boeing’s hot-selling 787 Dreamliner.

After false starts, sales of the mid-sized plane took off when Airbus opted for a costly redesign and Kingfisher was the last of the original buyers to upgrade to the newer version. (Reuters)