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Jetmaker Airbus says record deliveries in 2013 drove higher full-year earnings

TOULOUSE, France - European jetmaker Airbus Group said Wednesday record demand for its civilian jetliners from airlines around the world drove higher sales and profits last year.

The Boeing Co. rival, known until this year as EADS, said net profit rose 22 per cent to 1.47 billion euros ($2 billion) in 2013, up from 1.2 billion euros the previous year.

The company, which competes with Boeing in the multi-billion-dollar market for large civilian aircraft, forecast jet deliveries to remain at about the same level this year as last year when it sold 626 aircraft.

"We're not planning new adventures in 2014, the focus is on execution, execution, execution," Chief Executive Tom Enders said at a press conference.

Enders said that while Airbus will "take a little break" this year in terms of production, after 11 straight years of growth, he predicted orders will remain higher than deliveries. Last year Airbus took in a record 1,619 new orders.

In a statement, Airbus also announced plans to ramp up production of its single-aisle jets to 46 a month by 2016, from 42 now.

The A320 single aisle family of jets competes with Boeing's 737, and has seen high demand in recent years alongside exceptional growth in the air travel market in developing countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Airbus' earnings came in below the 1.97 billion-euro consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Factset. The 2013 accounts were dented by higher costs connected to Airbus' new A350 twin-aisle jet, which Airbus hopes to start delivering to customers by the end of this year.

Airbus has received over 820 orders so far for the wide body A350, with around 30 per cent coming from Asian airlines. The region is a crucial market for plane makers because its economic growth is driving rapid expansion of jet fleets.

Airbus shares rose 1.5 per cent in early trading Wednesday on the Paris stock exchange, as investors applauded the group's hitting financial targets including higher operating profit and better-than-expected free cash flow.

Airbus says the A350 program "remains challenging," after it took a 434 million-euro charge against the program in the fourth quarter last year. Development of the jet, an intended rival to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, has cost around 10 billion euros over the last decade. Qatar Airways expects to take delivery of the first A350 in the fourth quarter of this year.

Airbus is in the midst of a corporate restructuring that will see it cut 5,800 jobs over two years. A failed merger with British defence firm BAE Systems scuttled Airbus' plans to grow its own defence business, which now accounts for about 30 per cent of the group's total sales.

A slowdown in U.S. and European military spending has forced Airbus and Boeing to overall their defence businesses.

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