updated 1/15/2004 11:45:51 AM ET 2004-01-15T16:45:51

European airplane manufacturer Airbus SA said Thursday it delivered 305 jets in 2003, beating its own forecast of 300 and making it the market leader over U.S. rival Boeing for the first time.

The total barely topped Airbus' 303 deliveries in 2002, and the company said it expects "close to 300" in 2004 in a market that's likely to remain "soft."

Boeing earlier this month reported 281 aircraft deliveries in 2003 and is forecasting between 275 and 290 this year.

The company's weaker showing in a difficult and competitive market meant that Airbus's share of global deliveries jumped to 52 percent last year from 44 percent in 2002 and 38 percent in 2001.

Boeing was harder hit than Airbus by the slump in the civil aircraft market. It slashed production to 281 aircraft from 570, while Airbus simply shelved a plan to ramp up production to 450.

Airbus said it recorded revenue of 19.3 billion euros ($24.4 billion) in 2003, slightly down from the 19.5 billion euros reported a year before.

Boeing has accused Airbus of spoiling the market by producing too many planes.

Airbus said it booked orders for 284 aircraft worth a total of $32.8 billion last year. Taking into account 30 cancelations during the year, net new orders totaled 254.

Executives at European Aeronautic, Defense and Space Co., which owns 80 percent of Airbus, have said they don't anticipate an upturn in the civil aircraft market anytime soon, and expect Airbus deliveries to stay around their 2002-2003 level through 2005.

"Airbus has the biggest order book, received more orders and delivered more aircraft than its competitor," Philippe Camus, EADS' co-chief executive, said Wednesday. "This trend will continue for some years."

Airbus president and chief executive Noel Forgeard said Airbus "managed the difficulties of 2003 quite well and ... is now in a good position to fully benefit from the market recovery when it comes."

Boeing shares fell 30 cents to $42.81 in morning trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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