Boeing has shattered its jetliner sales record, set in 2005, by winning orders for at least 1,040 planes last year.
The company's order tally for 2006 will not be made public until Thursday, but people close to the matter confirmed the preliminary figure Tuesday.
The 1,040 net orders could change by a few planes, sources cautioned, as Boeing officials double-check the math. This can be a complicated process because only firm contracts signed before midnight Jan. 1 can be counted. And the net total includes cancellations of orders placed in a prior year as well as conversions, which is when a customer changes the mix of planes previously ordered.
Regardless of the final 2006 number, The Boeing Co. almost certainly beat Airbus for the first time since 2000.
The Airbus 2006 order numbers will not be released until later this month, but Boeing had such a huge lead heading into the final two weeks of the year that even Airbus had conceded it could not overtake its U.S. rival.
In 2005, Boeing won 1,002 net orders.
Airbus ended 2005 with 1,111 gross orders, or 1,055 net orders. That broke what was believed to be the industry order record set by Boeing and McDonnell Douglas in 1989.
After merging with McDonnell Douglas in 1997, Boeing changed its historical order charts to include planes sold by McDonnell Douglas. By that measure, the companies combined for 1,107 gross orders in 1989, according to Boeing's historical order numbers. But Boeing has said it was not really sure how many planes it and McDonnell Douglas sold in 1989, and the number 1,107 might have been based on bad information.
Industry analysts questioned the record-setting year that Airbus had in 2005 because the airplane maker included an eleventh-hour, 150-plane deal with China that some thought should not have been counted until 2006.
It was not clear Tuesday how many gross orders Boeing won in 2006.
Before the year ended, Boeing finalized its deal with Korean Air for 25 jets, including 737s, 777s and 747s, and firmed up a deal with Air Berlin for 60 737s.
As was the case in 2005, Boeing's best-selling model in 2006 was the 737. Not counting the Korean Air and Air Berlin orders, Boeing had won 619 net orders, or 623 gross orders, for its single-aisle jet in 2006. That's the best year Boeing has ever had selling the 737.
Airbus also had another strong year selling its single-aisle A320 family of planes. But Airbus has lagged far behind Boeing in winning orders for widebody planes. Boeing's 777 and 787 are dominating in the market for jets that seat from about 250 to 360 passengers. Boeing's 747-8, which is now in development, also enjoyed a strong showing, especially the freighter model.
Airbus is developing the A350 to compete with the 777 and 787, though the A350 will not enter airline service until at least 2013.
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