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Airbus eyes 2015 win over Boeing as orders hit 1,000

People are silhouetted past a logo of the Airbus Group during the Airbus annual news conference in Colomiers, near Toulouse January 13, 2015. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA) orders topped 1,000 aircraft between January and November, sending its shares higher as it looked all but certain to win its annual race against U.S. rival Boeing (BA.N) .

Boeing, however, remained in comfortable shape to retain its title as the world's largest jetliner producer as Europe's Airbus continued to lag on deliveries.

Shares in Airbus Group rose 2.8 percent, while Boeing edged 0.4 percent higher.

Airbus said on Monday that it had sold 169 aircraft in November, bringing the gross 2015 total to 1,079. After cancellations and model conversions, the net figure was 1,007.

That compares with Boeing's 655 gross orders between Jan. 1 and Dec. 2, giving it 568 after cancellations. Airbus handed over 556 aircraft in the first 11 months, including 10 mid-sized A350s and 24 A380 superjumbos.

Boeing remained ahead on 709 deliveries over the same period, but with some work left to meet its target of selling as many planes as it delivers this year.

Boeing has a target of 750 to 755 deliveries in 2015. Sales chief John Wojick said last month that it aimed to finish the year "close to" a book-to-bill ratio of 1, the threshold at which a manufacturer sells as many units as it produces.

Despite the share bounce, analysts said the latest data brought few surprises after a quiet Dubai Airshow last month.

But it highlighted Airbus's stronger position for now in the widely watched race for orders of upgraded medium-haul jets, potentially casting a shadow over Monday's first public appearance of Boeing's 737 MAX.

Boeing has sold 2,955 of the revamped jets but has failed so far to catch up with the A320neo, a similar model also equipped with new engines and due to enter service this month. Airbus has won 4,443 orders for jets in the A320neo family, giving it 60 percent of the market for this category of fuel-saving jets.

Challenging the traditional duopoly for planes with seating for 150 to 200 passengers, Airbus has said it aims to keep a 60 percent market share, though Boeing has argued that its backlog is more robust.

"The MAX started a year late relative to the neo, so there is a catch-up phase. It is very hard to catch up all of it at one time,” Jeff Knittel, president of lessor CIT Transportation (CIT.N), who has ordered both types, said in a recent interview.

Boeing plans to deliver the 737 MAX in the third quarter of 2017.

Airbus, meanwhile, confirmed that TAP Portugal had canceled 12 orders for the next-generation A350 and replaced them with 14 revamped A330s following an ownership change at the airline.

(Additional reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Jason Neely and David Goodman)