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Boeing pulls ahead of Airbus in first quarter

By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Boeing overtook Airbus in deliveries in the first quarter, setting itself on course to recapture the coveted number one spot in annual aircraft production for the first time since 2002, company data showed this week.

European planemaker Airbus said on Friday its deliveries grew 10 percent compared with the first quarter of last year to 131 aircraft.

On Thursday, its U.S. competitor Boeing announced first-quarter deliveries of 137 commercial airplanes, up 32 percent from a year earlier.

Both planemakers are increasing production of best-selling medium-haul models, the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, roughly in tandem to record levels in order to tap demand led by Asia.

But Boeing has edged in front of its European rival as it also uncorks two models that had encountered major production delays but which came to the market at the end of last year: the 787 Dreamliner and the latest enhanced version of its 747.

The catch-up effect is expected to help push Boeing ahead of Airbus in deliveries in 2012 after a nine-year winning streak for Airbus, which is owned by aerospace firm EADS

Boeing delivered six 747-8 stretched jumbos and five of the new carbon-composite Dreamliners. Airbus delivered 4 A380 superjumbos (all in January and February) and started assembling the first A350, its answer to the 787, this week.

The first A350 will take shape in its Toulouse factory but is destined to be shaken apart in static ground tests. Assembly of the first flying A350 will start in the summer. The A350 is due to enter service in mid-2014.

After sweeping the board in 2011 with sales of a revamped and more efficient model of the A320 to help airlines save fuel, Airbus has also fallen behind Boeing in new orders this year.

It sold 100 jets in the first quarter, a figure reduced to a net total of 90 when adjusting for 10 order cancellations.

Boeing, which started booking orders for its own fuel-saving version of the 737 about a year later than Airbus, sold 440 jets in the first quarter and took 412 net orders after cancellations.

Both planemakers get paid the bulk of their revenues when aircraft are delivered.

The two companies dominate a global aircraft market estimated at $100 billion annually and are gearing up for more emerging market demand while facing uncertainties over aircraft financing available to their airline customers.

Airbus has meanwhile warned it may lose some of its Chinese market as a result of a row between the European Union and a group of nations including China over rules for reducing aircraft emissions. As of now, however, a Hong Kong order for 10 A380s that Airbus says may be threatened by the row remains in the company's order book, according to Friday's data.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Cyril Altmeyer)

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