Boeing Closes Best-Ever Year With 1,044 Plane Orders

Boeing Co. (BA) said on Thursday it had taken firm orders for 1,044 commercial aircraft in 2006, topping its previous record of 1,002 for the year before and probably beating European rival Airbus for the first time since 2000.

Sales benefited from strong demand from European, Middle Eastern and Asian airlines, confounding analysts who had expected a slowdown in sales from 2005. Boeing was also helped by the outstanding success of its new lightweight 787 Dreamliner, which is set to enter service next year.

Airbus, dogged by production and management problems, has badly lagged Boeing for the past 12 months, notching only 635 orders by the end of November. That company, controlled by EADS, plans to report its 2006 orders later this month.

Boeing's order number is the company's best ever, but still short of Airbus' industry record of 1,055 net orders in 2005.

Boeing reported a record 729 orders for its single-aisle 737, the workhorse for many regional and domestic airlines, up from 569 the previous year. Airbus had 580 orders for its family of single-aisle planes at the end of November.

Boeing took orders for 315 of its more lucrative widebody planes. That number looks set to crush Airbus, which struggled with the design of its mid-sized A350 and production gaffes on its flagship A380 superjumbo. At the end of November, it had only 55 widebody orders for the year on its books.

The year was dominated by the carbon-and-titanium 787, Boeing's most successful plane launch, with 157 orders in 2006. The plane, which promises a more comfortable ride for passengers and better fuel economy for its operators, is set for its first test flight this summer.

Orders came in at 76 for the larger 777 widebody and 72 for the 747 jumbo, which was revamped this year. Boeing's 767 jet, which is getting close to the end of its production life, took 10 orders.