(Adds analyst revision, shares, annual report comments)
By Tim Hepher
PARIS, April 6 Airbus took 20 new jet
orders in March to end the first quarter well behind rival
Boeing as delays in deliveries of the A320neo shifted the
spotlight back to an earlier model.
The France-based company ended the quarter with 26 orders,
but the net total for the year shrank to six after allowing for
cancellations and conversions between different models.
Boeing earlier posted 226 jetliner orders for the same
quarter, boosted by orders for 21 airframes for its P-8 military
surveillance jet project and 15 U.S. air refuelling tankers.
After cancellations, Boeing posted 198 net orders including
those military derivatives, but most of the remaining orders
were from airlines that have to be identified.
Airbus took 18 orders for its popular A320 single-aisle jet,
despite it nearing the end of its production as Airbus switches
to the upgraded A320neo, whose deliveries have been delayed by
problems at one engine supplier, Pratt & Whitney.
The order tally for A320neo aircraft fell by 8 units in
March: hardly enough to dent a backlog of over 3,500 orders but
enough to highlight the unexpected extra availability of
current-generation A320s as Airbus keeps assembly lines flowing.
Chinese lessor CALC and U.S. budget carrier Spirit Airlines
are among customers seizing the chance to pick up extra A320s
powered by an earlier generation of engines at what some
industry sources describe as "opportunistic" prices.
Airbus delivered 12 A320neos in March to bring the 2017
total to 26, but deliveries remain behind schedule due mainly to
problems with engines from Pratt, one of two suppliers.
Airbus aims to deliver about 200 A320neos this year.
In two other widely watched projects it delivered 13 A350s
and 3 A380s in the first quarter. In total, it delivered 136
jets in the quarter compared with Boeing's total of 169.
However, analysts said Boeing's deliveries were lower than
expected and Wells Fargo Securities cut its earnings forecast
for the quarter, while maintaining its forecast for the year.
Boeing shares rose 0.4 percent, about in line with the U.S.
market, while Airbus shares rose more than 1 percent.
Boeing overtook its European rival as the world's largest
jetliner producer in 2012 and analysts say it is expected to
retain the title through the rest of the decade, while the prize
for most orders is hotly contested each year.
Last quarter's wide order gap with Boeing came as Airbus
faces a UK probe into suspected corruption in its use of
third-party agents to win contracts in at least five countries,
which widened this month as France started its own
Airbus said in its annual report released ahead of an April
12 shareholder meeting it was reviewing processes for using such
agents, most of which have seen their relationships with Airbus
cancelled as the company carries out a compliance drive.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher, editing by David Evans)