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Sat, Jan 07, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Boeing announces record high plane orders for last year

AP , SEATTLE

Boeing Co said on Thursday it set a company record for commercial airplane orders last year, while also more than tripling the number of jet orders from the previous year.

The Chicago aerospace company said it received 1,002 net airplane orders last year. That beats the company's previous record set in 1988, when Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, which have since merged, booked 877 net orders.

In 2004, Boeing had 272 net commercial airplane orders. The net order number represents the total passenger and freighter planes the company has sold minus any canceled or converted orders. Boeing, which assembles most of its commercial jets in the Seattle area, booked 1,029 gross orders last year.

The milestone marks a significant turnaround for Boeing, which had been losing ground to European rival Airbus SAS.

"I don't think anybody in their wildest dreams at the beginning of the year thought they would do this well," aviation analyst Scott Hamilton with Leeham Co LLC said on Thursday.

But as the year went on, Hamilton said rising fuel prices prompted more airlines to sign on for Boeing's newer, fuel-efficient offerings, including the widebody 777 and the new 787, due to enter service in 2008.

Meanwhile, Hamilton said Airbus had less success in part because the company lagged Boeing in offering its A350, which will compete directly with the 787 and is scheduled to enter service in 2010.

Airbus said on Thursday it had booked 687 firm jet orders through November and expects to release a full tally for the year on Jan. 17.

Hamilton said he expected this year to offer a more accurate barometer of the head-to-head competition between the A350 and the 787. Overall, he's expecting fewer orders this year than last, in part because many US carriers are still suffering amid high fuel prices and changing business models.

Not all the news was good for Boeing. Also on Thursday, Banc of America analysts downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "buy," saying it is likely to stagnate after a strong run last year.

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