Airbus Woes a Boon for Boeing

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Airbus said Monday it won 117 plane orders in the first half of the year, less than a quarter of the orders announced to date by U.S. rival Boeing Co. (BA).

Orders fell from 276 in the same period of last year, a sharper drop than the broad full-year decline predicted by both jet makers after record sales in 2005. Boeing's orders rose to 480 for the year to July 5, after 439 in the first half of 2005.

Airbus still turned out more jets than Boeing in the first half — as it has each year since 2003 — delivering 219 planes, up from 189 in the year-earlier period. Boeing delivered 195 planes, up from 155.

But the latest orders suggest Airbus may lose its lead in coming years. The Toulouse, France-based jet maker is struggling with production delays to its A380 superjumbo, and weak sales of its planned A350 have forced a costly rethink of the mid-sized jet's design.

Both companies are expected to announce further sales at Britain's Farnborough Air Show, which opens next Monday. Jet makers often put some of their order announcements on hold for major industry events.

Airbus has won more orders than Boeing for five straight years, but fell behind on overall order value in 2005 as it sold fewer large, more profitable jets. Higher oil prices have made less efficient four-engine widebody planes like the Airbus A340 less attractive than twin-engine alternatives such as Boeing's 777.

Boeing has won 69 orders so far this year for its 787, the long-range, fuel-efficient widebody jet due to enter service in 2008 — taking the total of firm orders for the plane to 360.

Airbus took 13 new first-half orders for the A350, billed as a rival to the Dreamliner, taking its total to 100.

New Airbus CEO Christian Streiff is expected to announce changes to the A350 program at Farnborough that could drastically increase its 4.5 billion euros ($5.8 billion) development cost and push back its entry into service from 2010 to 2012 or later.

Streiff took over from former CEO Gustav Humbert in a July 2 shake-up at Airbus and its parent company, European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. Humbert and EADS co-CEO Noel Forgeard, who also lost his job, shared the blame for the new A380 delays.

EADS shares lost more than a quarter of their value in one day after the seven-month production hitch was revealed in June, prompting questions about communication within EADS and suspect stock sales by directors including Forgeard — currently being investigated by France's Financial Markets Authority.

On Monday, shares in EADS fell 1.2 percent to 21.43 euros ($27.38) in Paris.